GAA Football

Antrim players are proven role models in pandemic: Lenny Harbinson

Lenny Harbinson has taken a pragmatic approach to the condensed club and county seasons

LENNY Harbinson has praised the character of both the Antrim football and hurling squads following their big-hearted financial contribution towards foodbanks in the country during the pandemic.

Back in April, both squads donated a combined £3,000 of their expenses to help the most vulnerable in need, a figure that was matched by the county board at a time when all revenue streams had been stripped away.

The £6,000 was evenly distributed among food shelters in west Belfast (Upper Andersonstown Community Forum), Randalstown (JAM food bank) and Ballycastle food bank.

With the club championships edging closer and club and county rows beginning to bubble, Harbinson preferred to highlight this act of goodwill during the early, more worrying days of the virus.

“Maybe I’m biased but I think we’re very lucky with the group of footballers and hurlers that we have in the county,” said Harbinson, who is in his third season as senior football manager.

“And the reason why I mention the hurlers is because both sets of players train in the one venue up in Jordanstown, so you get an insight into them and when you’re having a bite to eat afterwards.

“The players are very level-headed. Neil McManus is one of the best hurlers in Ireland. We’ve all spoken to him in the past and his feet are firmly on the ground. He’s a credit to Cushendall as well as Antrim.”

Harbinson also paid his own captain Declan Lynch a handsome tribute for his determination in overcoming several hip operations to become captain.

“You look at Declan Lynch and the way he conducts himself and speaks. When he came back after his two hip operations and the work he’d done behind the scenes to get himself fit, it was obvious he was leading from the front and he was captain material.

“Kevin O’Boyle was the same when he was with Antrim. Highly respected throughout the county, highly respected up in Cargin and in Cookstown where he teaches, Kevin did his talking on the field.

“So, when I was looking somebody to replace Kevin because of injury, Declan had stepped up to the plate. To give him the captaincy and to see how he’s matured and developed in that role is very encouraging.

“Is it any wonder when you look at what the Antrim players did in helping their community during the pandemic.”

With some Belfast clubs expressing discontent with the tight time-frame of the football and hurling senior club championships, Harbinson says that neither club nor county are getting everything they want.

“In the circumstances we have a reduced playing season and the county has done their best in difficult situation in trying to accommodate the football and hurling within the county,” said the St Gall’s clubman.

“Remember, all this at the minute is still predicated on the ‘R’ rating and virus being kept under control. You can see what happened in Germany over the weekend where the ‘R’ rate went up again. We’re in a very fluid, realistic situation here and the GAA in Antrim is trying to do their best.

“People have got to look at it and try to work with what’s there. Nobody is getting out of it what they would want.

“I’ve had experience of dual player issues as a club manager. You have to work with the hurling manager and to share players on a weekly basis.

“Or, if you’re in a good position in a game, take that player(s) off and rest him for the upcoming game whether it’s in football or hurling team. That’s the reality of it.”

In a frank address to clubs on the Antrim GAA website, county chairman Ciaran McCavana said: “Be under no illusions, we are aware that the schedule is tight and we have tried to get the correct balance between providing a meaningful championship and a league format for the majority against the constraints imposed to accommodate dual players, county players and Covid 19.

“I would ask clubs to sit down with both their hurling and football managers to ensure that dual players are managed in a responsible manner.”

McCavana added: “In reality we are trying to fit five into four and we are aware of potential clashes at quarter and semi-final stages, if these clashes do arise, we will have to find a solution.”

The county board is also proposing that half the net gate goes to the host club

Harbinson is realistic to know that he is likely to have a few injury headaches before county training resumes in mid-September.

“Last October when players started coming back into the county panel a lot of them were carrying injuries, and that was with an extended season, not a condensed one,” he said.

“The point needs to be made that the county really looks after the players from a health and well-being point of view. If players need medical attention, they get it. When they need scans, they get them. What happens at county level mightn’t be just as slick as at club level.”

Harbinson added: “I know the county final in football is September 20 and the hurling is something similar. Those players will be training with their club but all the other players who have come out of the championship, the first thing we’ll do is assess them for injuries and assess their fitness levels. And from that we’ll put an appropriate training plan in place.”

Antrim will face Wicklow (a) on the weekend of October 17/18 and Waterford (h) on October 24/25 in their remaining two NFL games with promotion still very much in their sights. The county hurlers will face Kerry in their Division Two promotion play-off clash on October 17/18.

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GAA Football