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Hurling was always in Jim Nelson's heart

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Antrim GAA is mourning the death of Jim Nelson who managed the county in the 1989 All-Ireland hurling final defeat to Tipperary

Antrim GAA is mourning the death of Jim Nelson who managed the county in the 1989 All-Ireland hurling final defeat to Tipperary

Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

Antrim GAA is mourning the death of Jim Nelson who managed the county in the 1989 All-Ireland hurling final defeat to Tipperary

Any time I met Jim Nelson over the years, his message was the same: "Don't forget we're hurling in Antrim too."

His gentle chiding was always delivered with a smile but carried a serious side as he felt that hurling in Antrim - and other Ulster strongholds - didn't get the coverage it deserved on the national stage. Nor was he always enamoured by how it was treated by the GAA authorities either.

But then when it came to passion for the game and the sense of identity it provided in Antrim's hurling heartlands, he had an unwavering conviction. And while he will be best remembered for leading Antrim to a historic win over Offaly in the 1989 All-Ireland semi-final, there was a whole lot more to his career than that special day.

'Sambo' McNaughton, another of Antrim's hurling greats, said that Jim's philosophy was to try and turn every hurler he encountered into a better one and if he couldn't do that he would try to make him into a better person.

He helped break down barriers between players from different Antrim clubs, getting them to work in a common cause to maximise the county's chances at the highest level. The peak was reached when they qualified for the 1989 All-Ireland final and while they were well beaten by Tipperary, the experience will never be forgotten in Antrim.

Apart from leading Antrim to the All-Ireland final for the first time in 46 years, Jim played a major role in keeping them in Division 1 for several seasons. It was all achieved in troubled times and against a background of relative isolation, well away from the major hurling forces.

He will be buried today after Requiem Mass (12.0) in St Michael's Church, off the Andersonstown Road, Belfast. May he rest in peace.

Irish Independent