Kevin McKernan has been handed a massive personal incentive to help take Down into an All Ireland football final meeting with either Dublin or Cork.
Almost 20 years ago his father Brendan won an All Ireland medal as a tenacious right-back in a resilient Down side that captured the 1991 All Ireland title.
Now Kevin, who was plagued with injuries last year, is hoping to match his father’s feat having produced one of his best-ever performances in the famous red and black jersey in that stunning quarter-final victory over reigning champions Kerry.
Up until then manager James McCartan had deployed An Riocht clubman James Colgan as a defensive sweeper but against the Kingdom he opted for a rather more orthodox defensive formation.
When McKernan found himself drafted into his favourite centre-half-back position, he proved a revelation, nullifying the threat posed by the normally imposing Declan O’Sullivan while at the same time proving the catalyst for a series of incisive attacks that brought the scores which helped propel his side into their semi-final meeting with Kildare on August 29.
Now McKernan (22) is relishing the challenge of confronting a Kildare attack in the second All Ireland semi-final on August 29 that includes some of the most potent finishers in the country in John Doyle, James Kavanagh and Eamonn Callaghan.
“Obviously Kildare have been racking up big scores so far but our defence has been playing well overall,” says McKernan, who is employed in the family electrical contracting business.
“If I am picked, it would be a great personal boost for me but I realise that competition for places in our team is very sharp.
“Naturally everyone wants to be in the starting line-up.”
Five years ago he captained the Abbey CBS, Newry side to MacRory Cup and Hogan Cup (All Ireland) successes — achievements that provided the initial pointer to his ability as a player and skipper.
Now, though, he is in pursuit of a much bigger prize — but with his feet firmly planted on the ground.
“There is a tremendous buzz altogether within Down at the minute. My father keeps telling me it is even better than 1991. While we are looking forward to meeting Kildare we know that Kieran McGeeney will have them well fired up,” stated the Mourne defender.
“James McCartan has been insisting right from the very start of this year that we should never look any further than the next match and we are continuing to do just that.”
He missed last year’s Ulster championship defeat to Fermanagh because of a shoulder injury but subsequently returned for the qualifiers and found himself in the rather unusual position of full-back in the defeat to Mick O’Dwyer’s Wicklow.
But right now McKernan has his sights set on the No 6 jersey for the confrontation with Kildare.
“I’m just one of a number of players looking to start in defence but I’m happy to be in the mix,” asserts McKernan.
“We will be giving it everything in training for the next two and a half weeks, you can be sure of that.
“No one wants to miss out if they can help it.”
Meanwhile this evening Dromintee and Whitecross launch the Armagh championship when they meet at Carrickcruppen where the Dromintee side will be backboned by the O’Rourke brothers Martin and Michael, goalkeeper Philip McEvoy and former Australian Rules player Kevin Dyas.
Dromintee came close to winning the county title, particularly when they were under the baton of current Down coach Brian McIver, but inevitably found the prize a bridge too far because of the continuing dominance then of Crossmaglen Rangers.