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Clubs are to blame for fixtures chaos: Harbinson

 

Tough talk: Antrim boss Lenny Harbinson believes that clubs need to be more flexible to help ease fixture congestion
Tough talk: Antrim boss Lenny Harbinson believes that clubs need to be more flexible to help ease fixture congestion
John Campbell

By John Campbell

Antrim senior football manager Lenny Harbinson believes that the core problem in relation to fixtures congestion lies not with county team managements or boards but the inflexibility on the part of many clubs.

"I see this as one of the biggest threats to the game at grassroots level," stated Harbinson.

"The perception is that it's the county managers and other officials who have too much power when it comes to fixtures in particular but I would say that outside the top five or six counties, every other county is beset by clubs having too much power in terms of influencing when they will and will not play games, when they want their players."

The All-Ireland-winning former St Gall's club boss is particularly trenchant in his assessment of some clubs and what he feels is their readiness to use the unavailability of a county player or players as a reason to call off a game.

"This is done at the cost of not affording the opportunity to play a game for some 40 other players," maintained Harbinson. "It is this inflexibility along with a few counties undoubtedly putting some players under pressure not to play for their clubs that is impacting on fixtures planning.

"Look at the percentage of fall away in terms of young players coming out of minor and not going on to play senior but leaving our games. Is there not a duty on clubs to get these young people involved, get them playing games and not focusing on the one or two club players with the county team?

"Players usually want to play with or without the county man. If a club has a proper pathway for Under-18 and Under-20 players to their senior team, the pressure on the county man will be less."

Harbinson is adamant that clubs have been using all-too-familiar reasons for getting games called off.

"Clubs have been for years using excuses such as someone is out of the country, someone is injured, someone has work commitments," insisted Harbinson. "And then the fact that a club's county panellist is not available is the final coup de grace that gets the headlines."

The Saffrons supremo believes that it is lazy analysis that points the finger at county team managements for games being called off.

"Look at last weekend when the Mayo and Antrim U21 football finals were played," pointed out Harbinson. "Mayo went out of the All-Ireland series in August while Antrim went in June. Why are county boards only hosting their Under-21 finals now?

"I would suggest that in many cases the clubs have been telling boards they don't want to play at U21 in the middle of summer because it does not suit their senior teams.

"I have managed at club and now county level so I have experience of both sides of the coin in terms of player availability."

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