Antrim reappoint four-man panel to oversee senior hurlers

Terence McNaughton and Dominic McKinley have been reappointed to the four-man panel to oversee the Antrim senior hurlers in 2017  
Terence McNaughton and Dominic McKinley have been reappointed to the four-man panel to oversee the Antrim senior hurlers in 2017  

ANTRIM made a surprise reappointment on Monday night of the four-man senior hurling management team of Dominic McKinley, Terence McNaughton, Gary O’Kane and Neal Peden.

The quartet took over at the end of March, when PJ O’Mullan stepped down following a disappointing National League campaign. Loughgiel native McKinley and Cushendall man McNaughton previously managed Antrim together from 2006 to '09 and, along with Dunloy’s O’Kane and St John’s man Peden, they stepped in to oversee this summer’s Christy Ring and Ulster Championship campaigns.

Having missed out on league promotion under O’Mullan, Antrim reached the Christy Ring Cup final, but were beaten by Meath after extra-time in a replay. During their time in charge, McNaughton and McKinley had both ruled out the possibility of carrying on in the role into 2017, while The Irish News understands O’Kane had no interest in taking sole charge.

But in a surprise move, the four names were put forward by the county management committee to Monday night’s county board meeting for ratification by the clubs. It’s understood the county board were not interested in a manager from outside the county and that attempts to find a suitable candidate within Antrim proved fruitless.

Antrim county chairman Collie Donnelly said the four would continue as a “selection panel”, with no nominated manager, though they would ultimately have to choose a figurehead on match days. The news comes days after the Antrim county board announced a strategic review of the county’s hurling structures following the disappointment of this season, which ended last Saturday with a 29-point defeat for the U21s in their All-Ireland semi-final with Waterford.

Announcing the review, a statement released on the county board’s official website said the “performances and results of the senior panel in recent years… stand in contrast to the performance of Antrim club teams, both at a regional and national level.”

The consultation, which will be open until October 14 and intends to produce a report by Christmas, will seek the involvement of “key stakeholders within the county”, but “the assessment will be independent, with limited involvement from county officers”.

Donnelly revealed the reappointed senior management team feels the key is to get “back to basics”: “The feeling from the senior fellas is that we need to get back to basics and to find, not just the best hurlers, but people who are prepared to live the lifestyle of a county hurler,” he said.

“There are plenty of talented fellas, but not everybody can apply themselves to play at a level even above where we’re at.”

Meanwhile, the senior football management pairing of Frank Fitzsimons and Gearoid Adams were reappointed for what will be their second season together. It will be Fitzsimons’ third year at the helm, having taken over from Liam Bradley ahead of the 2015 season.

Former world boxing champion Brian Magee will continue as fitness trainer, a role he fulfilled this season when Antrim won promotion from Division Four of the NFL before suffering Championship defeats to Fermanagh and Limerick.

Minor football manager Hugh McGettigan was also reappointed, while minor hurling boss Ciaran Kearney stepped down, with no replacement yet named. Gerard McNulty, who was in charge of the U21 footballers with Sean McGoldrick, has been reappointed, while it remains uncertain whether U21 hurling boss Ollie Bellew, who only took charge in June, will stay in the role.