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Billy Stickland/INPHO The late Jim Nelson, RIP, who passed away overnight
The man who famously led Antrim to 1989 All-Ireland final has passed away
Antrim GAA in mourning following the death of Jim Nelson

ANTRIM GAA IS in mourning following the death of Jim Nelson, the man who guided the Saffrons to an historic All-Ireland senior hurling final appearance against Tipperary in 1989.

The genial St Paul’s man passed away overnight and the news has been greeted with shock and sadness in Antrim and within wider GAA circles. Antrim legend Terence ‘Sambo’ McNaughton spoke to this morning and reflected on a long-standing relationship that dated back to McNaughton’s early teens.

“Jim Nelson was a man of principle. I was captain of the Antrim U21s before an Ulster final and he put me in the stand for playing for the club on the previous Wednesday night. We lost the Ulster final on the Saturday and Jim told me, with tears in his eyes, that I wouldn’t be playing.

“It was the right thing to do but he didn’t want to do it. But that was Jim. He would always do the right thing.”

McNaughton believes that Nelson’s greatest achievement was not that 1989 march to All-Ireland final day. Rather, it was keeping Antrim competitive over a sustained period of time.

“His greatest achievement was that Antrim played eight years in Division 1. It proved that a so-called weaker team could compete at the highest level. He had a good county chairman working with him at the time, the late Oliver Kelly, and the players got what they needed.

“I remember we’d be eating steak and chips but it would be plaice and salad for Jim. He was into healthy living, a concept that was ahead of his time. And he introduced two balls into a hurling drill to keep the intensity going, long before that idea became commonplace. We hadn’t seen it before. We were given free boots and tracksuits and the players’ partners were also well looked after.

“I remember times when my wife would sit in the car for two hours before an Antrim game that I was playing in, and then have to pay in. But Jim made sure that was not the case. There was always a cup of tea for the wives. It might sound silly now but that’s how it was back then before Jim changed things.”

McNaughton admits that not capturing an All-Ireland title during Antrim’s golden era is a source of regret. But he explained that Nelson was a unique unifying figure at a time when the county’s leading clubs operated in a fiercely competitive environment.

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“He (Nelson) was a great person, a great human being. If any of the guys were farting about, Jim would talk to them because he believed that you had to behave in a certain way off the field. Jim’s thinking was that you couldn’t be a good hurler without being a good person.”

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