Tyrone's Enda McGinley in frame as Antrim begin search for Lenny Harbinson's successor

Former Swatragh manager Enda McGinley could succeed Lenny Harbinson.<br /> Picture Margaret McLaughlin
Former Swatragh manager Enda McGinley could succeed Lenny Harbinson.
Picture Margaret McLaughlin

TYRONE All-Ireland winner Enda McGinley is among the front-runners to succeed Lenny Harbinson as manager of the Antrim footballers.

Vastly-experienced as a player with the Red Hands and his native Errigal Ciaran, McGinley – brother-in-law of Saffron duo Tomas and Michael McCann – is understood to be high on the list of candidates as the Antrim County Board begins the search for the man to take over from Harbinson, who resigned from the position yesterday after three years in charge of his native county.

Former Antrim forward Kevin Madden (currently part of Mickey Harte’s Tyrone management team), Lamh Dhearg manager Martin Lynch, Cargin boss Damian Cassidy and Bellaghy’s John McKeever are among other names expected to be included in discussions.

McGinley has management experience with Swatragh. He stepped down from the Derry club at the end of the 2020 season but his availability to Antrim may have been complicated by the news that Johnny McBride has vacated the bainisteoir vest at Errigal Ciaran. Meanwhile, the managerial picture in Tyrone could also play a part in any decisions he has to make.

Whoever the new Antrim manager is, he will inherit a side that has shown the potential, but not the single-minded focus, to reach the target Harbinson set when he took over from Gearoid Adams and Frank Fitzsimons for the 2018 season. Promotion was the primary objective for the man who won the 2010 All-Ireland club championship with St Gall’s but his team finished third in Division Four three times in-a-row during his tenure.

In the Championship, Antrim were handicapped by the absence of Casement Park and last year’s Qualifier win against Louth was the Saffrons’ sole success.

“Everything comes to an end in the madness of football,” Harbinson told The Irish News yesterday.

“That’s sport, it’s the what-ifs and the ‘if this had happened’ and ‘if that hadn’t’ but the bottom line is that I was privileged to be awarded the Antrim senior football manager position three years’ ago and to be entrusted with that role is that ultimate in the county.

“Promotion was the target. Everybody understood that we needed to get out of Division Four and the management team behind me put in a massive, professional structure to help us do that but, ultimately, when you don’t achieve your primary goal then it’s time to step aside and allow somebody else to come in.

“Hopefully that person can build upon the structures that we’ve put in place and put his stamp on things and that might just help the players get promoted next year.”

Behind the scenes, Harbinson and his team delivered results in logistical planning, strength and conditioning training, opposition analysis and medical facilities. But on the pitch he was hampered by an age-old issue in Antrim – getting the best players in the county on the field. Several experienced players weren’t available for his first season and he began year two without a dozen from his year one panel. He was without star man Matt Fitzpatrick this year but promotion was in Antrim’s grasp until the team’s abysmal performance in Wicklow last month and a battling loss to Cavan last Saturday was the end of the road.

“The time is right to go and let a fresh voice come in,” he said.

“I hope that person looks at what we put in place, builds on it and maybe that will get the extra 10 per cent out of the players next year. As an Antrim man I sincerely hope they will kick-on and get promotion.”

After three years at the inter-county coalface, Harbinson admits that he’s looking forward to a rest. He says he’ll enjoy watching the remainder of the Championship without forensically studying set-ups and tactics he could use with his own team.

“If you’re doing a job, you try to do it to the best of your ability and that means a lot of time, energy and emotional energy,” he said.

“There’s a fair bit of madness associated with it all.

“So, to a certain degree, I’m disappointed but I’m content in my own mind that now’s the time to step away, take a bit of time out and recharge the mental batteries and the physical batteries.”