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McClean backs Harbinson to unite Antrim and drive standards through roof

 

By Declan Bogue

Former Antrim defender Andy McClean is tipping new Saffrons supremo Lenny Harbinson to bring all the stay-away stars back into the fold, comparing his demeanour to that of all-conquering Dublin manager Jim Gavin.

McClean, who played under Harbinson when their club St Gall's won the All-Ireland Club title in 2010 by beating Kilmurry-Ibrickane in the final, is a huge advocate of the Antrim county board's decision to appoint his former boss.

"I think that, for various reasons, different players haven't been playing and I don't necessarily think that the best players have been lining out for Antrim over the past couple of years," he explained.

"But I think Lenny is the kind of person that would be able to convince players to join the panel. He has got that charisma. Whenever you are under his management, he exudes those characteristics and he is the type of person you want to play for, that as a player you would go to any ends to do your best for him.

"I think he will encourage the best players, some players who haven't been about for a while, to kit out."

In the wake of the 2010 All-Ireland win with St Gall's, it was notable how composed Harbinson was at the final whistle, leading to inevitable comparisons with Gavin and their sideline demeanour.

"That's probably due to the fact that all the hard work was done. Lenny achieved the result he wanted to achieve," said McClean.

"It was very clear internally what our ambitions were that year. We looked at the progress and had steps after every game, saying, 'Okay, this is the next hurdle. We know what our ultimate ambition is, but until we get to then, we will take the next team and dissect them'.

"It was the end result for him, the outcome. It was very business-like. He achieved what he set out to achieve.

"I am just using it as a comparison, that calmness, that analytical background.

"He is taking feedback from everybody else, he is thinking about it and processing it and then he puts in a thing that he thinks is the best fit."

McClean believes that handling the collection of egos and personalities that make up any modern inter-county squad will not be an issue for Harbinson, on the evidence of how he brought St Gall's, with multiple county players and imports such as current Fermanagh manager Rory Gallagher and his brother Ronan, to the Andy Merrigan Cup.

"You look at that team, he came at it at the right time. But like any manager, you have to make your players tick, you have to deliver the structure and put it in place," he said.

"While we had the players and the foundation there, we had been winning Ulster and we had been to Croke Park before. It wasn't a matter of just turning up, the expectation would have been that we would do well.

"He has that ability to manage players and personalities.

"For want of a better description, it was like a microcosm of county football. You had loads of personalities, probably dealing with one or two of the most prolific in Antrim, and yet he was the man to put all that together."

McClean - a teacher in St Malachy's College who is currently recovering from ankle surgery - rules himself out of any potential return to county colours but is heartened by the appointment of a man he first encountered while coming through the youth structures of St Gall's.

"He took us to the pinnacle of the club football scene," he recalled. "In terms of what Lenny brings to the table, he is very thorough. He is a businessman and he brings a lot of organisation, management and research.

"He leaves absolutely no stone unturned when he is preparing a team and that extends to his backroom team. You can bet your bottom dollar that whoever he is putting in place, they will clearly know what they have to do and what is expected of them."

Belfast Telegraph

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