Lenny Harbinson 'honoured' to lead Antrim
By Cian O’Connell
“I would be a big believer that within any county there is the potential to do well,” the new Antrim manager Lenny Harbinson admits.
Three Allianz Football League Division Four matches have yielded five points meaning the Saffrons are heavily involved in the promotion race alongside Laois and Carlow, who currently boast flawless records.
It is a competitive environment for teams eager to improve, a mission the popular Harbinson wants to accomplish with Antrim.
In the contemporary game the ‘honour’ associated with being involved on inter-county stage can frequently be overlooked. Harbinson acknowledges that holding the role provides pleasure and a sense of pride. “Absolutely, I played with Antrim for the best part of 12 or 13 years,” Harbinson states.
“I'm an Antrim person, my club St Gall's are in Antrim and I've always had a desire at some stage to step up from club football to the next level which is the ultimate: county level. To have the honour of managing your own county, it doesn't matter whether it is in Division Four or Division One it is an honour for anybody.
“From that point of view I'm very proud to have the managership of Antrim at present. Obviously what comes with that responsibility is a lot of desire from the supporters and key stakeholders within the county to really want to do well.
“Yes there is pride, but you put yourself under an element of pressure because you want to do well.”
That is the case with Harbinson, who guided St Gall’s to All Ireland club glory back in 2010. It means that recent months have been especially busy as Harbinson seeks to generate belief and momentum. “The last three months has been pretty hectic,” Harbinson admits.
“I'm just in the role so we have been putting a lot of building blocks in place in terms of strength and conditioning, speed development, trying to get training venues sorted out, trying to get the players thinking in the management's way of thing. Brendan Trainor is my assistant manager, he has come in to help, he is from Tyrone.
“Brendan and I have worked together for the last number of years so we have a clear way of doing things and a way of playing.
“It just takes a bit of time for the players, I suppose, to get to grips with that thought process and what we are trying to do structurally and tactically with the players as well as try to do these other things behind the scenes. So it has been very hectic.”
Harbinson acknowledges that St Gall’s success at national and the fact they were so competitive for a decent stint at provincial level illustrates what can be achieved when graft and craft are blended.
“There is 15 or 20 very good footballers, it is trying to bring all of that together,” Harbinson says. “That is the challenge, to get everybody on the same page.
“From an Antrim perspective, I don't think Antrim are any different to lots of other counties throughout Ireland, the likes of the Clares and the Leitrims. They do have historically, down through the years, club teams who have competed with lots of other well established club teams. What I'm saying is that with a team like St Galls from Antrim doing well for a number of years in Ulster there is not a natural kick on for the county, but there is a foundation there where you can build from it.
“Players can take confidence from it, that their senior clubs can really compete well in their province, there is no reason why the county team can't do likewise with organisation and people being behind them.
“If you try to take that attitude and mindset to the county team, we do have good players, we need to have ourselves well organised and structured, have processes in place behind the scenes to give us every chance to achieve.
“At the minute we are in Division Four, to achieve we have to get ourselves in a position where we are competing with Laois and Carlow. That is what I'm striving to do.”
Colm Collins’ quietly effective efforts with Clare have been rewarded with a couple of promotions and the Banner are now a respected Division Two outfit. Harbinson has noted the development.
“Absolutely, if you look at the last couple of years Clare have come up through the ranks, so have Tipperary,” Harbinson adds.
“They have shown that they have quality footballers. They might be more recognised as hurling counties, Antrim maybe something similar to a certain degree, but most certainly within many of these counties there is a core and a nucleus of very good footballers.
“It is just trying to bring it all together putting the right structures and the right coaching in place. The County Board have been very supportive behind the scenes, trying to allow us to do that.
"It would be our aspiration to look at the likes of the Clares and the Tipperarys, if we can get the right structures in place with coaching and whatever else we can build momentum.
“That is what we want to do. It might not necessarily happen this year, but over the next couple of years we want to be building momentum and trying to move up the Divisions.”
Antrim’s present challenge is to emerge from Division Four according to Harbinson. “It is a very, very competitive League,” the Antrim boss accepts.
“You have four or five teams there on any given day that can beat each other. We are away to London in the next round and they have already shown that they are going to be formidable opposition, whoever faces them.
“We are well aware of the task there. Carlow, Laois, and ourselves we all have to play each other so you have lots of twists and turns still to take place in this League.
“Wicklow proved on Sunday that London was a bit of a blip for them, once they got themselves restructured and settled themselves they will be difficult to beat, particularly for anyone who meets them in Aughrim.
“Going into the lions den it will be difficult for anybody to beat them in Aughrim on their home turf. It is going to be the same for all of the teams. It is nip and tuck at the minute.”
Following Sunday’s draw with Wicklow, Antrim head for Ruislip on Sunday week, aware of the implications of the rest of the League.
Harbinson knows all about Antrim’s past and when potential wasn’t always rewarded. Hope is attached to an emerging Antrim outfit; the coming weeks and months promise to be interesting with Harbinson directing affairs.