County championship has reinvigorated football in Antrim says Lenny Harbinson
ANTRIM manager Lenny Harbinson says football in the county has been “reinvigorated” by an intensely contested club championship campaign.
Cargin ultimately won the championship final in extra-time of a replay against Lámh Dhearg, who themselves played an epic trio of games with Portglenone at the last-four stage.
In the weeks following the conclusion of the championship, Lámh Dhearg’s Paddy Cunningham, Cargin’s Tomás McCann, Peter Healy from St Enda’s and Portglenone’s Dermot McAleese have all confirmed their return to the inter-county set-up.
“Off the back of a very good Antrim club championship campaign, there’s an element of a feel-good factor whereby four or five clubs put their hand up to say they’ve a chance of winning the championship,” Harbinson said.
“There’s a couple of players who haven’t been able to commit over the last couple of years but are now interested – the likes of Tomás McCann and Paddy Cunningham – lots of experience, lots of quality there, who have also had good club seasons behind them. So they’re in form and they’re there on merit.
“We aim to bring a wee bit more quality back in – Peter Healy, for example, who was doing his final year exams last year in UCD, had a great campaign with St Enda’s and went to an All-Ireland final. So it was great from a club point of view and for him personally, just from a county perspective it was challenging for us because he’s a very good, quality footballer and last year, unfortunately, he wasn’t able to commit. But this year, those commitments are no longer there, so it’s great to have him back too.”
With the initial aim being to mount a successful promotion campaign from Division Four of the National League, Harbinson believes this injection of proven performers with raw talent can make the difference for Antrim.
“The likes of Ronan Delargy has had a very good, solid club campaign in their [Portgelnone] games against St John’s and then against Lámh Dhearg; Dermot McAleese was involved with Antrim in the past and Dermot was probably one of their consistent campaigners in the league as well as championship – we watched a lot of league matches this year as well as championship matches – so, again, it’s good to have that bit of experience back,” the former St Gall’s boss added.
“The likes of Mark Jordan, who plays for Lámh Dhearg, he was probably one of the players of the championship, he’s only a young lad who was out of the country last year and, not only has he done a fantastic job with Lámh Dhearg in their campaign, but also we’ve got high hopes that he can take that club form into the county set-up.”