GAA Football

Criticisms of inter-county demands are 'overcooked' says Antrim boss Lenny Harbinson

Antrim manager Lenny Harbinson says there is no better time to be an inter-county player Picture by Cliff Donaldson

ANTRIM manager Lenny Harbinson says recent criticisms of the demands placed on inter-county players are “overcooked” and he would love to be playing in today’s modern game.

Some pundits and recently retired players have been scathing towards the amount of time required to compete at elite level.

Former Clare hurler Brendan Bugler described his last couple of seasons with the county team as “mental torture” primarily due to the gym sessions and video analysis.

Former Meath footballer Joe Sheridan claimed players he knew were “nearly detesting” playing the inter-county game.

However, Harbinson takes the opposite view and believes many problems surface through the inflexible of managers.

“I think it is managers,” said the 2010 St Gall’s All-Ireland winning manager.

“They’re not flexible enough. One of our players came to me a couple of weeks ago and said he had to go to a school opening. Here’s a young guy trying to make his way in teaching; he has to turn up to the event.

"First and foremost, players have to look after their careers and you try and find a bit of balance. The problem is some managers are totally inflexible.”

Harbinson, who has won his first two NFL Division Four games in charge of his native county, would love to be an inter-county footballer in today’s era.

“I think the criticisms are overcooked because if I was a young man now, would I want to be involved in Gaelic football the way it is now? One hundred per cent - the way they’re treated, the way they’re looked after, their strength and conditioning, physio, gear – and if you’re in the top eight or 10 teams in the country, what a time to be playing Gaelic football. Who wouldn’t want to play? The criticisms are blown out of all proportion.”

Harbinson (54) played for Antrim’s senior footballers in the 1980s and remembers the days when part of their pre-season training consisted of carrying team-mates piggy-back up the hills of Barnett’s Park in south Belfast.

“Funnily enough, we were having a laugh about this recently. Roy McLarnon, who is our kit-man and was Antrim trainer back in the day.

“Roy, who has great pedigree and it's great to have him on board with us, represents who Antrim were in the past and who we are now. He’s involved with the Casement Park social club and all the great work that they’ve done down through the years.

“Roy reminded me that we were over in Barnett’s Park doing circuits with dumb-bells and carrying people up and down hills. And that’s what we were laughing at. One of our players twisted their back pushing off the wall and Roy mentioned about carrying people up hills in Barnett’s Park.

“In our day, we would have trained Tuesday and a Thursday – damn bloody hard work – and maybe on a Saturday morning or a Sunday. We loved it. We couldn’t get enough of it.

“As a 23-year-old or a 28-year-old I would be saying now: give me as much as you can. What a life. I’m an old boy at 54-years-of-age and I’d love to be playing football in this era instead of managing.

“If you think back to the seventies and Mick O’Dwyer, it was well known how many nights in a row that the Kerry team trained.”

Antrim continue their promotion push with a home clash with Wicklow at Corrigan Park on Sunday after recording back-to-back victories over Leitrim and Waterford.

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