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Antrim may have to plan without Murray for 2020

Lámh Dhearg and Antrim star Ryan Murray, pictured in action against Justin Crozier in last Saturday’s county final replay, could miss the 2020 inter-county season as he plans to travel to Dubai for work Lámh Dhearg and Antrim star Ryan Murray, pictured in action against Justin Crozier in last Saturday’s county final replay, could miss the 2020 inter-county season as he plans to travel to Dubai for work
By Paddy Tierney

ANTRIM could be without the services of Ryan Murray for the 2020 campaign with the Lámh Dhearg attacker set to fly out to Dubai next week.

Is it understood Murray, who is a Geotechnical Engineer for the Arup Group, will work in Dubai until Christmas and has the option of extending his contract into the New Year.

That would see him sit out the 2020 inter-county season with Antrim set to begin their Allianz National League campaign at home to Wexford at the end of January.

Manager Lenny Harbinson admits the loss of Murray would be a huge blow for the Saffrons, but is hopeful of having the services of the Lámh Dhearg ace at some stage of the season.

“Ryan (Murray) is due to be out of the country from next week until Christmas,” stated Harbinson.

“Ryan has been playing county football a long time and he is a young lad. If you are going to travel, this is the time to do it, albeit, potentially to the detriment of Antrim.

“I did speak to Ryan and, at the minute, it is short-term. The benefit of that is that Ryan has played a lot of football of the last 12 months and he has a few injuries so it could be a blessing is disguise in terms of giving him a rest period.

“We’ll have a fitness programme sent out to him and if he is back at Christmas, that will be a bonus and the door will be open. If this thing extends, then that would be a big loss.”

Following their remarkable journey in the Antrim Senior Football Championship, Lámh Dhearg’s representation on the county panel could be increased despite Murray’s potential absence.

Elder sibling Conor Murray is already on the panel along with Saffron skipper Decland Lynch and midfielder Kevin Quinn.

They could be joined by club colleagues Marc Jordan and Ben Rice, while Eoin McKeown may also be in line for a return to the squad following a number of impressive performances.

Cargin, who won last Saturday’s county final replay after extra-time against the Red Hands, return to Corrigan Park to face Derrygonnelly on Sunday in the Ulster Club series while Antrim Intermediate winners Aldergrove take on the Donegal champions next month.

Harbinson will continue to monitor the progress of both clubs and has indicated that several new faces will be invited on to the panel in the coming weeks.

“From a football point of view, it has been a great club Championship across Junior, Intermediate and Senior,” said Harbinson.

“The Senior, in particular, caught the eye. You had the St John’s and Portglenone games, Lámh Dhearg and Portglenone games and the county final replay.

“That’s captured the imagination and there’s a lot of positivity around the club scene. The management team and myself have spent the best part of the summer following the league and Championship games. We’ve had close to 100 players on our radar.

“I’ve phoned up eight or nine new players to come into the panel and I’ve still a few phonecalls to make. It is still a work in progress. If they take up the baton, great. It would reinvigorate the squad.”

The Antrim boss also revealed that Naomh Éanna star Peter Healy and Ruairi McCann of Aghagallon will return to the Saffron squad in 2020 after opting out this year.

“Some players I’ve spoken to and some I’ve yet to talk to, but the likes of Peter Healy has committed back to the squad after he had exams this year,” added Harbinson.

“Lots of counties had these problems. Donegal had four guys who opted out due to exams, but it went under the radar.

“The same thing happened in Kildare – a few players from their U21 All-Ireland winning team opted out. It happens in lot of counties.

“Peter was in his final year and doing very difficult exams and, reluctantly, he opted out. He has put his hand up and he wants to be involved again. Ruairi McCann from Aghagallon also opted out last year and he is back.”

While last week’s Championship draw pitted Antrim against the winners of the preliminary round tie between neighbours Cavan and Monaghan, Harbinson insisted his sole focus was on the forthcoming League campaign in January as the Saffrons seek to gain promotion from Division Four.

‘B’ proposals
Yet, a decision due to be made this weekend at Congress could have serious implications for Antrim and other Division Three and Four teams in the Championship.

An attempt to introduce a Tier 2 Championship in time for next year’s campaign will be debated at Congress in Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Saturday.

Division One and Division Two teams would enter the Qualifiers once they exit their respective provincial Championships, but teams from the bottom two divisions would need to reach their provincial final to remain in the race for Sam Maguire.

Congress will also decide whether a new format would be based on last year’s final league standings or next seasons – meaning the likes of Cork could find themselves in the ‘B’ Championship after suffering relegation to Division Three last April.

Harbinson feels there is merit in what the GAA are trying to do, but doesn’t agree with the current proposals.

“First and foremost, I’m disappointed in the structures that are due to go forward to Congress this weekend,” said the Antrim boss.

“I thought they would have gone with a similar format to the Super 8s and try and get a number of games at a group level for the teams from Division Three and Four.

“The more games you get, particularly in the summer, it improves players.

“Secondly, I don’t think it will benefit the lower counties.

“I don’t know why they are trying to push this through this weekend when there’s a football view committee still to report on fixtures and structures.

“It is putting the cart before the horse. The timing, the structure and the proposals are all wrong.”

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