TERENCE ‘SAMBO’ MCNAUGHTON has hailed the appointment of Darren Gleeson as the new Antrim senior hurling boss.
Gleeson only retired from inter-county hurling at the end of 2017 and was involved in the Antrim set-up in the two years since. Liam Sheedy, who was on board in an advisory capacity, introduced Gleeson as coach with the Saffrons.
Once their Joe McDonagh Cup campaign ended in June, Sheedy convinced Gleeson to help out as goalkeeping coach with Tipperary.
Now Gleeson is set to make the step-up to management at the age of 38.
“(He’s) a good guy too,” says McNaughton of their new manager.
“The last time I was with Antrim, Liam Sheedy came up. I would be friendly with Liam. He came up and helped us out and brought Darren with him, so Darren is not coming in cold. He knows the players and he was there last year.
“The players really like him and he seems tuned in. He’s a modern, young, forward-thinking coach. I think Darren could do nothing but good for Antrim and I’m looking forward to seeing what he does.
“I’m involved with a wee Division 2 team that are in the county final next week and he was at our game on Saturday looking at players and asking about players and doing all the right things.
“He was at every game last weekend in Antrim because I was there too and I saw him. That’s good, it shows he’s really interested, and you have to do the leg-work.”
Conor Hayes, Nicky English and Terence ‘Sambo’ McNaughton were inducted into the GAA’s Hall of Fame.
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Gleeson replaces outgoing boss Neal Peden, who is moving upstairs to become Antrim’s first-ever director of hurling.
Antrim finished in third place in the Joe McDonagh last season, finishing one point off Westmeath who reached the final.
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McNaughton believes they’re well-placed to compete next season.
“I think the hurlers are there to challenge for a Joe McDonagh. The last year we were there it was only a puck of the ball that Laois beat us by. We were the only team to beat Carlow and they went on to win it. On any given day a well-organised Antrim team will challenge Laois or Carlow or anybody, there won’t be a puck of the ball in it.
“Hopefully we grow. What needs to happen in Antrim is, if you look through the last 45 years, only one Belfast team has won a county title. The clubs in north Antrim are struggling with numbers now because there’s not the big families there were anymore of six brothers and that sort of thing.
“Belfast needs to start getting more people playing the game there because that’s where the numbers are, that’s where the population is, in Belfast. It’s underachieving, but if we can get Belfast organised and producing top-quality hurlers, then Antrim can grow again and come back again.”
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McNaughton says the ‘Gaelfast’ initiative must be a success if the GAA is to survive in the north.
“Gaelfast is going to be the most important thing that has happened in Ulster hurling in my lifetime. It has to work. There’s no coming back next year and trying a new idea, this has to be it. It must work.
“People have to maybe crack a few eggs to make an omelette, it has to be done. There is no choice. For the good of the game and the survival of the game within Antrim and within Ulster, Gaelfast has to work.”
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