GAA Football

Aidan O'Rourke new frontrunner for Antrim senior football manager post

Former Armagh star Aidan O'Rourke (right) 

AIDAN O’Rourke has emerged as the new frontrunner to take over the Antrim senior football post.

Armagh’s All-Ireland winning defender has been approached about taking the the job as have former Antrim defender John McKeever and former St Gall’s boss Lenny Harbinson.

Current boss Frank Fitzsimons, who managed the Saffrons with Gearoid Adams over the past couple of seasons, was the only person nominated but the chances of the big Lamh Dhearg man retaining the post now appear slim.

Several weeks ago, Adams had already indicated he would not be part of a nominations process.

The deadline for nominations was Monday August 14 – with Fitzsimons the only candidate to be put forward.

However, that deadline appears to have been extended after O’Rourke, McKeever and Harbinson were announced as contenders for the job at Monday night’s county board meeting.

Several club delegates expressed their outrage upon hearing other candidates had emerged after the deadline.

Running parallel to the nominations process, a three-man review committee has the power to seek out ‘expressions of interest’ from other managers.

The trio linked to the post come with impressive CVs.

O’Rourke has had coaching stints with Armagh, Down and Louth and is GAA Development Officer at Queen’s.

The Dromintee man was unveiled as Queen’s new manager a couple of weeks ago but that would appear an easy enough hurdle to overcome should the Antrim post be offered to him.

Not only are O’Rourke’s credentials impressive, facilities wouldn’t be an issue either with Queen’s sporting complex in south Belfast meeting every team’s needs.

Several years ago O’Rourke met with Antrim officials about becoming the next senior manager but funding his ambitious plans appeared the main stumbling block. 

McKeever is currently managing Tyrone club Coalisland and guided them to their first senior county final in six years in 2016.

The Portglenone man also won an All-Ireland Intermediate title with Fr Rocks Cookstown in 2013.

McKeever represented Antrim with distinction at all levels during the ‘Noughties’ until a knee injury ended his playing days prematurely.

It was initially felt the 36-year-old was not interested in becoming Antrim’s next manager but he could still be interviewed for the job. 

Lenny Harbinson is also another late contender following Monday night’s county board meeting.

The former Antrim and St Gall’s forward has always expressed an interest in managing his native county at some stage in his career and he also comes with a weighty CV.

After several near misses, Harbinson took the reins and guided St Gall’s to an All-Ireland senior title in 2010 and is generally regarded as one of the best coaches in the county.

He has held a couple of different managerial positions since his time with St Gall’s and is currently managing Ballymacnab in Armagh.

After winning promotion to Division Three last year, the Antrim footballers suffered cruel relegation back to the basement division on the last day of the group stages.

They were outclassed by Donegal in the Ulster Championship and lost to Sligo in the All-Ireland Qualifiers.

Despite their disappointing results, both Fitzsimons and Adams embarked on a radical rebuild of the senior squad.

With a clutch of experienced players calling time on their inter-county careers, the managerial pair flooded the senior team with fresh young talent and appeared to be making headway - but obviously not enough for the county board to retain the pair.

It is understood a group of senior players will meet with county officers over the coming days to discuss their requirements going forward.

It is expected the three emerging candidates will be interviewed before the middle of September.

Fitzsimons has already met with the review committee at the end of Antrim's season.

It's unclear whether he will be interviewed again should he continue his interest in holding the post.


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