GAA Football

Antrim football boss criticises GAA leadership over delays

Antrim senior football manager Lenny Harbinson.
Picture: Cliff Donaldson

ANTRIM senior football manager Lenny Harbinson has strongly criticised the GAA leadership for its delays in providing clarity about the proposed way forward.

While not backing his captain Declan Lynch’s call for the Saffrons to boycott this year’s Championship without a firm GAA commitment to completing the 2020 National Football League, Harbinson has also accused the GAA of being “disrespectful.”

Although the GAA finally made public its plans for re-starting games last night, Harbinson said yesterday:

“I can’t understand why they haven’t painted a roadmap [before now], saying ‘Here’s what our desire is – with everything based around the virus being under control and no second wave – here’s where we would like to go’.

“If some of those dates slipped due to unforeseen circumstances with the virus, everybody would understand that. They’re not going to hold a hurl or an O’Neills ball to their throat saying ‘You promised you were going to play on this date!’…

“My criticism is directed at the top of the GAA, [President] John Horan, for the mixed messages and the lack of clear direction about coming out of the pandemic, that’s been very poor – and they’re hiding behind the Irish government to a certain degree.

“The Irish government has given a roadmap of what the future could look like, based on each stage reaching a positive conclusion, and the GAA should have been doing the same.”

The St Gall’s clubman argued that the Association has performed poorly after a positive initial reaction to the current crisis:

“First of all, the GAA were good at lockdown, aligning themselves with what the Taioseach said and getting positive messages out there.

“However, for me there have been mixed messages since, with John Horan saying one thing and then [Director-General] Tom Ryan saying something slightly different. I’m disappointed the GAA hasn’t had a clear, coherent message about coming out of lockdown – it’s taken them 10 weeks.

“The public know these are unprecedented times, but the GAA should have made their position clear.”

Antrim skipper Lynch, in a video interview with the BBC Sport NI website, said he personally would boycott the Championship unless the GAA commits to completing this year’s National Football League, perhaps even in early 2021.

As ever, Harbinson confirmed “I have no problems with my players offering their opinions”, adding: “I can understand the frustration and annoyance from players.

“That’s my frustration, and of some players. When you look at the likes of Antrim, Wicklow, Leitrim, Waterford, our bread and butter is the National Football League, so why just brush that under the carpet and go straight into knockout Championship? For me that doesn’t make sense.

“It’s disrespectful to start one competition and then walk away from it. It’s disrespectful to player, counties, to those who support, including advertisers and sponsors, to say ‘Let’s leave that to one side and go straight into a knockout Championship’. That does not make sense.”

As an aside, the Antrim boss said he will understand if some players do not wish to risk playing this year: “There are players living at home, perhaps with elderly parents, who say ‘I don’t want to be involved with county or club at the minute’, you can understand that decision and respect that. It’s similar to players going away for the summer to America – players make decisions to opt in or opt out and the games continue.”

Harbinson again proposed a different timeframe for the respective returns of club and counties to that which is set to come from the GAA:

“I’m still adamant county teams should start before clubs. When we’re still coming out of this pandemic, why would you say to the tens of thousands of people associated with clubs ‘Go back to your pitches and away you go’, when there’s no control?

“With county you’ve 32 teams in football and hurling and associated mentors, you’re probably talking about around 2,500 people.

“Logically, if the GAA were more clear and joined-up they should let counties back, provided that the virus is under control, from mid-July, with the intention of finishing off the respective football and hurling leagues over a number of weekends. That’s very realistic and doable.

“That then allows them to see what the picture looks like for next year in terms of leagues, promotion, relegation, whatever else.

“Then it should be ‘Our intention in September is to have the respective provincial Championships, this year old-style knockout because of time constraints’ – have that done and dusted into October.

“A lot of the counties would be knocked out in September, so clubs in certain counties could get going then.

“Clubs could be allowed to train in August. Most clubs would appreciate that they would have to play some league matches without county footballers or hurlers because of the circumstances, then go into knockout Championships, just for this year, so that there’s a level of activity.”

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