The Ulster Championship enters its third week, with Antrim and Tyrone paired together in the Athletic Grounds. Lenny Harbinson leads his men into battle against last season’s All Ireland Finalists, with the goal of causing the first major shock of the 2019 campaign. At Harbinson’s side will be his assistant manager and coach Brendan Trainor, the pair now in their fourth season together, overseeing the fortunes of Armagh club Ballymacnab for two years before taking over the Saffron County last season.
Although major underdogs, Trainor insists his side will focus on their own performance “we always spend 75-80% of our time on our own game, then we have to be aware of our opposition as it comes closer to the fixture and tune in to the opposition that wee bit more. Our division four league games, compared to the Ulster Championship, preparation wise, we’re focusing on the same things”.
There is no hiding the fact that Antrim will be aware of the task they face, and how they go about dealing with the challenge, “the week before the game we tend to look at the opposition’s strength and weaknesses and see how we can nullify some of their strengths and see can we cash in on some of their weaknesses. That same approach has been taken throughout the league and it’s the same for the championship”.
The issue of Casement Park hangs over the current county set up like a dull cloud, depriving Antrim of home advantage in Saturday’s tie. “We’ve been using Corrigan Park which has great facilities, a great pitch and a great surface, just the spectator accommodation is the issue as there’s no stand. On a cold, wet January or February league match it’s not that attractive for people to come out and watch and if we had a venue like Casement Park, it’s always something, even at a youth level, a player aspires to and works towards and the fact we don’t have a similar type venue in Antrim is probably a disadvantage”.
Harbinson and Trainor are no strangers to the Athletic Grounds, “Armagh is a great venue and we played there last year in the McKenna cup. Myself and Lenny have been familiar with the territory there with Ballymacnab and at the end of the day it’s still a pitch and it’s still another game of football so we have to make the most of it”.
Trainor has already seen his native county, Tyrone, face and overcome Division Four side Derry, which he feels has no bearing on Saturday evenings encounter “We played Derry in the league and we got beat by a point, but we felt we should have got something from the game. The fact Derry ran Tyrone close has no real bearing on Tyrone, that games done and dusted now, Tyrone move on to focus on another division four opposition and for us it’s a chance to really look at one of the top two or three teams in Ireland and get a chance to play against them, which doesn’t happen every day. Our boys are mad keen to get into it and get the ball thrown up and see what they can offer”.
Tyrone’s styles of play has gained a lot of media attention since their victory over reigning All Ireland Champions Dublin in league earlier in the year, but Trainor again insisted Antrim can only worry about their own performance and take care of the things that they can control.
“Everyone will make of the tactics and the approach and how Tyrone have changed, but very often these big games come down to the basics and if we can do that and we have our tactics in order and we are winning the one to one battles, then we’re giving ourselves the greatest chance to win games”.
The Augher man believes that teams and players must be able to adapt to different situations they face during a game, “every game changes, not every team sets up and stays in that same formation there’ll be different men in and out. At times they’ll push men up and at times they’ll hold men back and that’s how you play the modern game”.
“Some teams have a spell on top and you try and limit what damage they can do and whenever momentum is in your favour then you try to make the most of it. Game management comes into it more and more and if you set up your team or go out to play a team and it’s not working you have to be able to adapt and change so it’s probably in-game tactics where games are won and lost and the one to one battles”.
Whether Antrim can cause a huge upset and take out the current favourites for the Anglo Celt remains to be seen, but Trainor insists on having a positive approach to the game, giving his men every chance “It’s the Ulster Championship and it has a knack for pulling up results against the norm”.