Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 12 July 2014

Antrim goalkeeper's chance comes against Monaghan

Chris Kerr will be Antrim's goalkeeper against Monaghan

Chris Kerr could have been forgiven for thinking this day might never have come.

At 26, he enters his second season as Antrim's number one goalkeeper, having spent years as understudy within the county and his own club, St Gall's.

During the National League, he and John Finucane were given equal opportunity to lay claim to a Championship start but that situation unravelled a fortnight ago when Finucane's injury struggles got the better of him.

Now Kerr faces one of the biggest game of his life, after a long, fruitful apprenticeship under Paddy Murray and Ronan Gallagher.

"I learned a lot from Ronan," he begins.

"At one stage in the club there was Paddy Murray who was number one for Antrim, Ronan was number one for Fermanagh and I was the Antrim under-21 goalkeeper. I mean, there is nothing you can do but wait for your chance and take it when it comes."

Another consolation is the longevity goalkeepers have to their career. The shining example of this is the recall of Sean McGreevy as back-up for Sunday.

Media reports have described him as a 40-year-old, but the pen pics of the matchday programme when Antrim reached the Ulster final in 2009 stated he was 39. Some creative accounting may be going on, with Kerr joking: "Sean McGreevy is the benchmark! I don't know what age McGreevey is, I reckon he is well into his '60s by now!"

In any question and answer format pieces, Antrim players will list Chris Kerr as the joker in the pack. He fits the goalkeeper stereotype. It calls to mind the description of former Roscommon goalkeeper Shane Curran by the actor Chris O'Dowd last year, when he said: "He comes from that great dramatic tradition of out-of-your-box crazy goalkeepers. He could save a penalty and score a '45', but at the same time he'd be just as happy to ride a bull into a church."

Those close to him will tell you he takes his sense of humour and mischief from his mother, Maud, but the family were dealt a dreadful blow during this year's league when their father, Pat, lost his battle with cancer.

He had been diagnosed last summer and he passed away a short time before Antrim played Fermanagh in the National League. There was an impeccably observed minutes' silence that Saturday night in Casement for Pat. Facing the flag as captain that night was his son.

"The match against Fermanagh was a very big night for me. Frank (Dawson) had gave me the captaincy for the night and all the boys and management were very supportive," Chris recalls.

"I went to training the night after the funeral because I know he would have been telling me to just go on and get on with it, go and play matches and get to training. I just felt it was the best thing to do."

His own form of recovery has been to throw himself into the season. One thing the panel have touched upon is that soon Casement Park will be closed down for redevelopment. It's important to leave the old place with some good memories.

"That's been mentioned from the outset. Antrim have had some big victories there down through the years. Last year, we beat Galway and nobody expected us to."

Like so many Antrim players, his earliest memory of the place was that scorching day of the 2000 Ulster semi-final, in particular when Sheeny McQuillan's long-range free was caught above the crossbar by the 'Swatragh Skyscraper', Anthony Tohill.

Kerr makes the point: "I think everybody, whether they like to admit it or not, grew up with aspirations of growing up and playing for the county in Casement for a Championship match.

"There have been many a time I have been in the stand and the terraces and would have given anything to be playing."

Earlier this week, Down's Kevin McKernan commented on those making the point that his side would rather have avoided playing Donegal, "mustn't be involved in competitive sport".

Kerr touches on similar territory when considering this Sunday. Antrim are seen as rank outsiders against a resurgent Monaghan who won the Division Three crown convincingly, beating Antrim by 12 points in the final game of the regulation series.

Yet Antrim can win, according to the man between the sticks: "If you didn't believe that, then you shouldn't really be playing the sport. If you didn't feel you could do something about it or you couldn't win. At the end of the day that's why you train four or five times a week, you want to win, you don't want to be beaten, being the whipping boys that people refer to us as.

"You want to win every game you play in. That's definitely our target."

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