Harbinson: mean streak can guide us to promotion
The team with the best defensive record in the Allianz League overall hope to replicate their frugality in a vital shoot-out this weekend in order to take what would be a giant stride towards promotion.
And it’s not Dublin, Kerry or Mayo we are talking about here. No, it’s modest and unassuming Antrim, currently toiling away diligently in the relative backwaters of Division Four, who boast an enviable reputation for meanness.
Lenny Harbinson’s men have still to concede a goal after four matches which have yielded three wins and a draw, thus projecting them into the frame for a place in Division Three.
But with high-flying Laois, still unbeaten after four outings, forming the opposition at O’Moore Park, Portlaoise on Sunday, Harbinson is aware that this is the acid test for his side.
A defence in which goalkeeper Chris Kerr has been superbly consistent and in which skipper Kevin O’Boyle, wing-back James Laverty and corner-back Peter Healy continue to display impressive form has helped to propel the Saffrons into the limelight.
The challenge now for them — and no one knows this better than Harbinson — is to stay there.
“This match against Laois is the first of three huge tests for us because Carlow and Limerick will follow in rapid succession,” pointed out Harbinson. “These are going to be very difficult games but the fact of the matter is that we feel we are in control of our own destiny.”
But Harbinson recognises that the amalgam of youth and experience which Laois will bring to the table on their home patch could provide a stern examination of his side’s credentials.
“While we are pleased with the way things have been going, we are not guaranteed anything,” insisted Harbinson. “There will still be a few twists and turns before the league is completed, that’s for sure. We have been making mistakes but we have not let them get the better of us.”
In the past, Antrim have tended to concede soft goals, often surrendering the initiative to opponents. Indeed, they undid good work up front through their frailties at the back.
Now, though, the Saffrons have the scent of promotion glory in their nostrils and they will not be easily deflected from their goal.
While happy that his defence as such has acquired a steely edge, Harbinson is quick to point out just why he feels that progress is being made.
“In the modern game, it is important that a team defends as a unit. Forwards and midfielders have a role to play in this,” insisted Harbinson.
And he pinpoints what he views as another important element within the make-up of his team.
“There is a generous ration of versatility in there,” he maintained. “You look at Paddy McBride, who started out as a half-back and is now scoring freely in the half-forward line, and then you take into account someone like Conor Murray, who can play at centre-half-forward, midfield or half-back.”
McBride and Murray along with CJ McGourty are likely to shoulder the lion’s share of responsibility for picking off points on Sunday while at the other end of the park goalkeeper Kerr hopes that once again he will be spared the task of picking the ball out of the net.
“Obviously we have been keeping clean sheets but we have to keep our guard up even more now because the promotion race will become even more intense,” stressed Harbinson. “The next few weeks will determine who goes up and who goes down in the various divisions of the league and we hope to be among those who go up.”