GAA Football

Door will stay open for Matthew Fitzpatrick and others insists Antrim boss Lenny Harbinson

Antrim hurling captain Conor McCann, Kieran Kennedy of O'Neills, William McCausland of new sponsor fonaCAB, Belfast mayor John Finucane and Antrim football captain Declan Lynch at the launch of the county's new jersey Picture by Mal McCann
Neil Loughran

ANTRIM boss Lenny Harbinson has insisted the door will remain open for star forward Matthew Fitzpatrick as he looks ahead to the Saffrons' 2020 campaign.

The St John's clubman informed Harbinson earlier this week that he won't be available next year as he plans to pursue a career in the Irish League, with several clubs keen to acquire his services.

It is a blow for the Saffrons' bid to earn promotion from Division Four, but the Antrim boss insists he will “take stock” between the National League and Championship.

“There are two different campaigns. For us, the National League is our Championship. It's our priority, it has to be because promotion from Division Four, trying to play at a higher level, is our core aim,” said Harbinson.

“By playing at a higher level on a consistent basis, individually and collectively it improves the footballer and the panel. Your decision-making has to be sharper, your thought process has to be faster and clearer, so that's our goal.

“Matt wasn't with us for a large part of last year's National League in terms of training because he was over in Liverpool and we were flying him back at weekends, which wasn't ideal.

“We probably didn't see the best of Matt until the latter part of the Division Four campaign when he was at home on a regular basis. He's a very talented sportsperson at Gaelic and at soccer, the way he finished the season with us last year, he was really at the top of his game, so it would be a loss.

“We'll take stock after the National League, as we've done the last couple of years, and freshen up our panel. I would anticipate the same sort of approach.

“There's no door closed on anybody.”

Harbinson could also be without another of the county's most talented forwards, with Lamh Dhearg's Ryan Murray working in Dubai until Christmas, with the option of extending his contract into the New Year.

“Ryan is away until Christmas and then it's going to be reviewed at that stage. He's not too sure himself.

“Between now and Christmas Ryan has a training programme from ourselves, but the break will do him no harm because he's been constantly at it over the last number of years.”

One man who definitely won't be available next year is Paddy McCormack.

The versatile Moneyglass defender was one of Antrim's most consistent performers this year, but he will be based in Galway on work placement.

Despite those losses, Harbinson has also welcomed several new faces into the panel, while experienced campaigners Tomas McCann and Paddy Cunningham have returned to the inter-county fold.

And, as he heads towards his third year at the helm, the St Gall's clubman feels he has the strongest squad at his disposal yet.

“We have Conor Small from Creggan, Eamon Fyfe of Glenravel has come back from a year away in the States on a scholarship, Tomas, Paddy, Peter Healy.

“We've seen some really good talent coming out of the Antrim club championships, the likes of Marc Jordan who was a revelation for Lamh Dhearg. Ronan Delargy and Dermot McAleese from Portglenone.

“I'm happy with the balance of the squad at the minute. Of course you don't want to lose players but we've got probably the strongest squad since I've been in available to us.”

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