GAA pundits and journalists need to be realistic when it comes to analysing games involving the so-called weaker counties according to Antrim boss, Lenny Harbinson.

Having exited the provincial series at the hands of Down last month, the Saffrons came in for criticism for a perceived lack of commitment and ambition.

Suggestions that their trip to Pairc Esler was an exercise in damage limitation have angered the Antrim boss and he feels that GAA punditry needs to reflect the different standards across the country.

“We are a Division Four side and we lost by seven points against a Division Two side, who are going into Division Three,” stated Harbinson.

“What do they want us do to? We have to keep it tight. Do they want us to play like Clare (against Kerry) and get hammered by 20-odd points trying to play this lovely, wonderful open football?

“Do they want us to play like Sligo and get hammered by the same kind of margin against Galway?

“The pundits need to be a bit more respectful. Look how Antrim were hammered in the media for playing defensive football and whatever else.

“If you don’t have some sort of structure and have a solid base, you have non-events.

“If Fermanagh had have lost on Sunday (against Monaghan), they would have been slated for trying to keep it tight and maximise their resources.

“I think there is a lot of lazy analysis going on by both the written media and the guys on television.”

Still, Harbinson admits to being annoyed that his own charges failed to implement the kind of aggressive, defensive structure that saw Fermanagh shock Monaghan in Healy Park last Sunday.

Antrim had harboured similar ambitious of keeping the game tight against Down, but a Kevin McKernan goal on the stroke of half-time put the game beyond their reach.

“Absolutely – that was part of our plan,” added Harbinson.
“We wanted to keep it tight, certainly for the first 15 minutes. We had an idea that Down would try to hit us hard as early as possible.

“You could see the reaction from their sideline once they got the goal. They probably felt they had us at that point.
“Up until then, it was nip and tuck. You have to look at where Down have come from.

“They were in the Ulster final last year. They have experience of playing in Division One and Division Two for the last three or four years.” 

For Harbinson, his vision for Antrim extends beyond the current season and the former St Gall’s All-Ireland winning manager says he is already putting plans in place for next year.

Part of his mission as senior football manager is to improve the structures within the county so that there is a clear pathway for players to progress from schools and underage levels to the county senior team.

As for the Qualifiers, Harbinson says his sole aim is to try and give Antrim two games in the Qualifiers.

The Saffrons are without a win in the back-door since 2015’s win over Laois and Harbinson is hoping to change that stat this weekend.

“For me, it is about trying to get a win against Offaly and building a bit of momentum,” added the Antrim boss.

“If we get that second game in the Qualifiers, I’d be happy. We haven’t had two games in the Qualifiers for a while. Long-term, our focus has to be getting out of Division Four and trying to move to the next level where you are playing against better opposition.

“If you look at Tipperary, they came from Division Four and moved up through the ranks. Tipperary had a very good minor team and did well at U21 level. They didn’t get there by chance, they had good players coming through.

“Carlow had a good run in the Leinster Minor Championship seven or eight years ago and a lot of their key players now came from that team.”

He added: “It is imperative that we get our structures right in Antrim – in the schools, in the U17s and the U20s.”

“There has to be a conveyor belt – that’s the aspiration, but that’s a hell of a long way down the line and it is going to take time.”

Antrim’s Qualifier record in recent seasons doesn’t give those making the long journey to Tullamore on Saturday much encouragement, nor does their last performance in O’Connor Park.

In the Allianz Football League, games are meant to be close, but Offaly had 13 points to spare over Antrim last year. They were full value for their win too with Antrim scoring a late consolation goal via Matthew Fitzpatrick.

In order for them to bridge that gap, they need to get more support to their forward unit. Ryan Murray ploughed a lone furrow against Down, but the Saffrons need more of their players to commit to the attack when they have possession.

Murray and Paddy McBride are both carrying knocks, but are expected to recover in time to face the Faithful.

After a poor return from their own kick-outs against Down, the pressure will be on rookie goalkeeper, Andrew Hasson to find his men when he opts to go short.

With Ricky Johnston suspended, Lámh Dhearg’s Declan Lynch and Naomh Éanna’s Kristian Healy could come into the half-back line. Stephen Beatty could also partner Niall McKeever at midfield which would allow Paddy McAleer to take up a more familiar position in the half-back line.

Whatever way Antrim set-up, they will know that improvement is needed from their last outing if they are maintain an interest in this year’s Championship.