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Harbinson is eager to see a tiered All-Ireland

Change needed: Antrim manager Lenny Harbinson admits his team’s season is all but over
Change needed: Antrim manager Lenny Harbinson admits his team’s season is all but over
Declan Bogue

By Declan Bogue

Antrim football manager Lenny Harbinson has reiterated his argument for the introduction of a tiered Championship for inter-county teams.

It comes after the St Enda's club reached national prominence in their run to the All-Ireland Intermediate final on Saturday. One day later, by Harbinson's own admission, Antrim's season all but ended with their third defeat in the opening three rounds of the Division Four league.

With a draw pitting them against the winners of the Ulster Championship preliminary round between Tyrone and Derry, Harbinson's main objective will be trying to get some positivity flowing ahead of the 2020 season.

"I have always advocated that there should be a tiered Championship," said the 2010 All-Ireland Senior Club-winning manager with St Gall's.

"Every county in Ireland agrees in many aspects when you look at the Senior, Intermediate and Junior Championships. They have looked at the clubs within their own counties and asked who is capable of playing Senior Championship and so on.

"It is no different from a county perspective. When Sean Kelly introduced the Tommy Murphy Cup, he introduced it for the right reasons. The problem was it wasn't fairly supported by Central Council in terms of playing matches before big games to give due recognition.

"From a PR point of view, maybe having an All-Star scheme for your Intermediate champions or whatever you want to call it is an idea. Maybe they get to play the senior guys in an exhibition match in New York or wherever, All-Stars against All-Stars."

As an example of how a team can benefit from a tiered Championship, he cited the Carlow hurlers who won the Joe McDonagh Cup last year and have had a bright start to their league campaign in Division 1B, drawing with 2017 All-Ireland champions Galway.

"It was very successful from the point of view of the counties involved and it gave them meaningful competition that they could aspire to win and I think there was linkage that if you won the Joe McDonagh Cup, there was a backdoor into the All-Ireland senior hurling," he said.

"Look at Carlow's progression and ask why that is. Is it because they had a lot of competitive games last year and that breeds confidence and momentum?

"If Division Three and Four teams competed in an Intermediate competition for want of a better description, look at the amount of joy it brought to a St Enda's team at club level, albeit they lost the final to Kilcummin. It gave those communities a focal point, momentum and everything else.

"Likewise, we would like something meaningful in Division Three and Four because let's be realistic, Antrim are not going to win Ulster. We are not going to win an All-Ireland."

Harbinson said he will be looking to bring in some St Enda's players who were on the county panel before their club commitments took centre stage.

Peter and Kristian Healy, along with Odhran Eastwood, are on the senior panel while Eoin Nagle may be left to develop with the Under-20 group. There are others such as James McAuley and Ruairi Scott who could earn a call-up.

For now, Harbinson's main job is to put a halt to the regular leaking of players that Antrim are notorious for between their league hopes dying and the start of the Championship.

"The reality of business and sport, it is about results," he explained. "From a football perspective, last year we came close. This year we started poorly in terms of not getting points on the board but our performances, we are a kick of the ball away from getting some sort of result.

"The players know that, a lot of the guys are smart enough to know we are there or thereabouts. But it is about the next four games, putting the points on the board.

"We need to continue with the hard work that the players are putting in to get results."

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