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Antrim GAA's feelgood factor can continue when action returns, says Harbinson



On hold: Antrim boss Lenny Harbinson is keen to see his side win promotion

On hold: Antrim boss Lenny Harbinson is keen to see his side win promotion

�INPHO/Declan Roughan

Davy Burke

Davy Burke

�INPHO/Tom O'Hanlon

On hold: Antrim boss Lenny Harbinson is keen to see his side win promotion

Antrim football manager Lenny Harbinson understandably takes umbrage when his team are occasionally referenced as 'only' a Division Four side.

Even though each passing week tends to further diminish the possibility that the Saffrons might not get the opportunity to play their two outstanding Allianz League encounters against Wicklow (away) and Waterford (home), Harbinson is convinced that their levels of preparation, enthusiasm and commitment are no less intense than those of teams in the elite bracket.

While accepting that the league could yet be declared null and void, Harbinson nonetheless remains steadfast in his drive to see Antrim get the chance to reach Division Three.

"I think every county team is at a similar level psychologically and attitude-wise right now because of the lockdown we have endured to date. The hope is that we will still see some action in the latter part of the summer but all this will be in the context of the coronavirus restrictions," insists Harbinson.

"If you look at Division Four, everyone bar the bottom two has a chance of promotion so it is all to play for. We just keep calm and ensure that we are fully prepared for a return to action.

"The fact that we have hoisted ourselves into a good position is very encouraging."

With the Antrim hurlers having reached the Division 2A promotion play-off against Kerry, Harbinson believes that "the feel good factor" which has permeated the county might endure as the year progresses.

"I think both the footballers and hurlers have matters within their control in terms of promotion and it would be nice if the momentum which has been generated within the two sports could be continued," adds Harbinson.

Hurling skipper Conor McCann and his football counterpart Declan Lynch enthusiastically share this belief, the prospect of a double promotion bonanza clearly further whetting their respective appetites for a return to action.

If Harbinson required any incentive to maintain his strong focus on progress, then it has already been provided by his ebullient Wicklow counterpart Davy Burke who certainly does not pull any punches in assessing his own team's prospects - nor in assessing football in general.

"We were very fired up for our game against Antrim in March as we were to be at home and felt we could have benefited from this," states Burke. "But even though this is regarded as being the basement division, we have our sights set on progress.

"I expect my players to keep putting in the effort. If they are not, which admittedly is rare, I would step in and ask them do they want to be off the training field by 9pm or have it extended to 10pm and they'd lift it immediately.

"We run a good ship and I would take it very personally if we didn't. These players crave information, stuff on tactics, presses, transition play and my backroom team, Mike Hassett, Dan Moore and Gary Jameson are astute football men.

"Promotion was and is the aim but every day we go out is a dogfight in the league. I hear the talk nowadays about the GAA turning into a runaway train but that's certainly not the case in Division Four.

"Firstly, there needs to be a level of backing otherwise how do teams like Wicklow and Antrim improve if we don't give it everything? Secondly, we work on the basics - give players facilities, gear, expenses, food and look after their travel needs.

"There are 50 of us in the set-up, 35 players and maybe 10-15 in the backroom but I would have had 10-12 in a club backroom so there's not a major step-up in that regard. To feed 50 people four nights a week and look after their travel is a huge expense. But if lads are putting in the effort there is no runaway train as I see it."

The forthright Burke admits, however, that there is a level of wastage in the GAA at inter-county level.

"Much of what is going on is a sideshow. Admittedly there appears to be lots of fluff in the GAA so I can see why some people want to strip it back," he insists.

Belfast Telegraph