Antrim boss Harbinson backs tiered All-Ireland championship

Lenny Harbinson. Picture: Inpho

Antrim football manager Lenny Harbinson has joined the chorus of voices arguing for 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 4 league.

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

“I have always advocated that there should be a tiered championship,” believes the 2010 All-Ireland senior club-winning manager with St Gall’s.

“Every county in Ireland agrees on 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 did 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.

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

“I think it was very successful from the point of view of counties involved and it gave 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 All-Ireland senior hurling. So you look at Carlow’s progression to now, 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 3 and 4 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 and momentum. Likewise, we would like something meaningful in Division 3 and 4 because — let’s be realistic — Antrim is not going to win Ulster. We are not going to win an All-Ireland.”

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.

“From a football perspective, last year we came close (to promotion),” he says.

“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 a result against the teams.

“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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