For the good of the game... Antrim manager Lenny Harbinson brokers deal to play Waterford game on neutral ground
ANTRIM'S National Football League game against Waterford is now set to go ahead in Dundalk on Saturday.
In a remarkable turnaround after the Waterford footballers pulled out of the Division Four clash yesterday, it emerged that a compromise solution for the good of the game and the integrity of the League was conjured up by Lenny Harbinson last night.
The Antrim manager, who described the statement issued by Waterford yesterday which outlined their reasons for not travelling to Belfast as “disrespectful to Gaels in the six counties”, has displayed admirable sportsmanship by giving up home advantage and offering to play the round seven fixture on neutral ground.
Harbinson explained: “We had agreement from Waterford that they would come and play the game in Belfast. They initially wanted to play the game in Dublin but we said: ‘Hang on a second, it's our home fixture and Antrim footballers, hurlers and U20s fulfilled fixtures in Aughrim, Tullamore and Darver (Louth) in the last week. So it's very disingenuous of you to say: ‘We're not travelling if you don't play us midway'.”
An arrangement was made to switch the game from Portglenone to Belfast to make it easier for Waterford's travel plans but yesterday the Decies called off the game due citing Covid-19 concerns and claiming that the employers of several players and members of the management had stipulated that they observe a 14-day isolation period for travelling to Northern Ireland.
“The statement that they released – we're not travelling because of Covid - was very disrespectful to the Gaels in the six counties who have been travelling up and down the country,” said Harbinson.
“As if we don't have our challenges with Covid? We all travelled to venues last week in a very difficult climate for everybody. To protect the integrity of Division Four and the other teams in it we felt it would be unfair just to take two points.
“I have a contact in Dundalk (the Dundalk Gaels club) and we have arranged to play the match there and the Waterford secretary has now said they will fulfil the fixture. If we lose, I'll be sacked, and if we win, the players can take some pride from winning on the field and we'll see what happens elsewhere.
“We owe it to ourselves after an atrocious performance last week. We'll see where it takes us – the players want it and we're trying to do the right thing.”
Antrim player Paddy McBride said the entire Saffron panel backed their manager's brave proposal.
“We want to play the match,” said the St John's clubman.
“If we take the points, there is a chance we could get promoted but I'd rather get promoted on the pitch. We would rather get a game behind us to show that last week (defeat in Wicklow) is not what we're about and to rectify it. We want to play the game.
“If they're not going to play the game in Belfast and we have to go down south somewhere then we're saying: ‘Right, we'll play you down there. If that's what you want then, let's go'. We want to play them instead of taking the points and just hoping for other results to go our way.”
McBride added: “We discussed it as a group and this was our decision. Every player was behind it, 100 per cent.”