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League schedule will be tough but Antrim players can make the grade, says Harbinson


By John Campbell

New Antrim football boss Lenny Harbinson has just received further confirmation as to how difficult it will be to steer his side onto a successful path next year.

Having already been drawn away to Down in the quarter-finals of the Ulster Championship, Harbinson, who took St Gall's to the All-Ireland Club title in 2010, is currently digesting an Allianz League itinerary that will see his team fulfil four away fixtures with three at home.

Harbinson has lost no time in getting down to business, though, and has already conducted trials with some 30 new faces having been put through their paces.

He now plans to stage a full-scale match between this year's Antrim Championship team and a side drawn from his infusion of fresh talent as he oversees a detailed build-up to the new campaign.

Having earlier made it clear that he views promotion from Division Four in the league as a priority, Harbinson now acknowledges that this could prove a more hazardous task.

"We have to travel to Waterford, Limerick, London and Laois and although these may not be regarded as high-profile teams, I can assure you that, favoured as they are with home advantage, they will be difficult to overcome," insisted Harbinson.

"Having said that, over this past couple of weeks it has become clear to me that there is a seam of talent in Antrim in addition to the squad that represented the county this year and this is hugely encouraging.

"I believe that the players are ready to show pride in the jersey and along with my assistant Brendan Trainor I am prepared to offer these players every encouragement to make the grade with Antrim."

With several managers having surrendered their roles this year citing lack of support from their county boards among other complaints, Harbinson confesses that he is "a little overcome" by the level of encouragement and help he has received from several units within Antrim including the county board, the Saffron Business forum, Casement Park Social Club and numerous individuals.

"It's very gratifying to note the level of goodwill that the Antrim squad enjoy. People may not think that this is the case but I have seen evidence of it at first hand," declared Harbinson.

"It would not be an exaggeration to say that I am a little overcome by it all."

While he is prepared to ponder his selection options as he gets ready to finalise his preliminary squad, he is nonetheless anxious to see his team make an impact in the Dr McKenna Cup as a precursor to launching their bid to attain progress in the league.

"Obviously we would like to hit the ground running if we can and get a bit of momentum going," revealed Harbinson.

"I think that the Allianz League in particular will be extremely competitive this time and we have to be ready for this challenge."

And he is particularly keen to see the drive to redevelop Casement Park expedited.

"This is something I have yearned for of late," stated Harbinson.

"I honestly believe that a state-of-the-art stadium will help to galvanise interest in football and hurling to no end.

"I would just love to see us with a venue where young people from across Antrim and indeed from across Ulster could parade their skills.

"We badly need a new headquarters and it is my earnest hope that this will be delivered sooner rather than later."

Harbinson takes "tremendous encouragement" from the recent Senior Football Championship final between Lamh Dhearg and St John's.

"We had two teams who were not expected to make the final laying on a superb match in front of one of the biggest crowds for years," he added.

"I know that Lamh Dhearg have exited the Ulster Club Championship but they and indeed St John's have shown the depth of talent that there is in Antrim at the moment and personally this gives me tremendous encouragement."

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