Loughgiel continue to reap the benefits of Nelson's tried and trusted methodology
Loughgiel Shamrocks coach/assistant manager and former Antrim manager Jim Nelson keeping a familiar watching brief. photograph: james crombie/inpho
ALL-IRELAND CLUB HURLING SEMI-FINAL:Legendary Antrim hurling man eagerly anticipating clash against St Thomas
You can’t retire passion. When Jim Nelson agreed to meet Loughgiel manager PJ O’Mullan jnr for “a chat” around Christmas of 2009, he told himself it wasn’t going to be anything more than that.
O’Mullan’s father had played for Nelson on the Antrim team which reached the 1989 All-Ireland final. And O’Mullan was from Loughgiel, one of the staunchest Glens of Antrim clubs and a village that breathes hurling.
For six years running, Loughgiel had finished as runners-up in the Antrim county final and Jim Nelson knew they felt stunned and stuck. Nelson owed Antrim hurling nothing. He had received a lifetime achievement award from the Ulster Council and had reached the age of 70 and felt content to just enjoy hurling as a spectator. He spoke for four hours with O’Mullan about what could be done with Loughgiel. When he got back to his car, he had somehow agreed to coach the Loughgiel team.
Three years on and Loughgiel are the defending Ulster and All-Ireland champions. And just last summer, Nelson responded to an SOS from Antrim. The circumstances were not promising. Gerry Wallace, the manager, had quit in the turbulent aftermath to Antrim’s shocking loss to Westmeath. They were in limbo in the championship.
“Somebody said to me: you are not seriously going to take that,” Nelson remembers. “And I said: I can never refuse it. Tell me how. I just don’t know if Antrim call how you could say no to them. It was only for a few weeks so I felt it was reasonable.”
Antrim won the Ulster championship and got something from the season.
Nelson stepped down again. Tomorrow, he will be back on the sideline with Loughgiel. He is about as far from retirement as a hurling man can be.
“Every year is my last year – one of them has to be. I thought I was done last year until Antrim came calling. Och, I’m glad that I did because we ended up winning something. But look, my family support what I do and even though sometimes you would like to be staying in the house, once you commit to it, that is that. There are some wild nights for hurling.
“We trained in Slaughtneil a few weeks ago because they have lights there and we were close to abandoning training because you are just sitting at the bottom of the Glenshane Pass and the wind just comes down it like a hurricane. You can cry and moan but it is a good position we are in.”