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Antrim can step up in world: Harbinson


Looking up: Antrim boss Lenny Harbinson is eyeing a big leap into Division Three
Looking up: Antrim boss Lenny Harbinson is eyeing a big leap into Division Three
John Campbell

By John Campbell

Antrim football boss Lenny Harbinson could be said to be paying more attention than most to the speculation surrounding the possibility of a Tier Two All-Ireland Football Championship.

After all, the Saffrons are regarded as minnows in the overall Championship structure as it pertains at present, with their last appearance in a provincial final having been in 2009 when they lost to the then reigning All-Ireland champions Tyrone.

But while delegates are expected to vote on the introduction of a new tier to the All-Ireland Championship at a Special Congress in Cork next month, Harbinson makes it clear that promotion from Division Four is the main focus for his side in the 2020 campaign.

The Saffrons flattered to deceive in the competition this year, briefly flirting with the possibility of moving into Division Three before being cast among the also-rans.

Harbinson, who has been conducting an intensive trawl for fresh talent as the Antrim Football Championship has unfurled over recent weeks, is adamant that an improvement in his team's status is required before Championship aspirations can be entertained.

"Our biggest challenge, more so than having Championship hopes, is to get up into Division Three," insisted Harbinson.

"That's our priority. It will certainly be interesting to see what plans that Central Council come up with next month but we must retain our own focus.

"There's a balancing act to be previewed here. From my perspective as a county team manager, the more games my players get the more it brings them on because you are playing at higher level.

"But if you are playing additional matches in a second tier competition you are also incurring extra costs, and then you have to look at it from the point of view of clubs."

Harbinson points to what he felt were the failings relative to the ill-fated Tommy Murphy Cup when it was conceived as a second tier competition.

"I would hope that Central Council will take on board the lessons that will have been learned from the Tommy Murphy Cup," declared Harbinson.

"It might not be a bad idea to play second tier matches as part of a double bill alongside games in the Championship proper.

"And when the second tier competition reaches its closing stages then games could be played in Croke Park in tandem with major provincial Championship games."

Harbinson, who was stripped of the services of several first-choice players this year including Kevin O'Boyle, Patrick McBride, Peter McAleer, Mark Sweeney and Conor Murray, accepts that while every manager can be confronted by this problem, the lesser allure of a second tier competition can present its own problems.

"I think it's better to wait and see what happens at Special Congress next month. We have been down this road before in relation to second tier competition and now we are about to re-visit it," stated Harbinson.

The Antrim boss intends to take in this weekend's County Football Championship semi-finals between St Gall's and Cargin, and Roger Casements, Portglenone and Lamh Dhearg.

He is known to have ear-marked certain players that he would like to have on board next year but is staying his hand in relation to fashioning his squad.

Belfast Telegraph


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