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Armagh v Cavan brawl: Our only crime was passion

By Declan Bogue

Cast in the unfamiliar role as substitute for Armagh's win over Cavan on Sunday, Aaron Kernan observed all those across the pitch losing their heads with dispassionate calm.

With the pre-match parade marred by disgraceful scenes of violence, Kernan revealed after the game that he wasn't too concerned about what was going on. However, he wasn't backward in condemning the carry-on.

"I actually didn't bother getting off my seat to look at it," the Crossmaglen clubman said.

He also hinted that there may be sanctions on the way, continuing: "It didn't look pretty from where I was. If there is something that has to be dealt with, it will be dealt with.

"It's disappointing, it's not something you come here to see but sometimes with Championship football things get a bit heated.

"Hopefully there will not be too much made out of it and we can move on. These things happen and we will see what happens."

Having now reached the age of 30, Kernan is a grizzled veteran of this team, leading you to wonder where the time really does go.

A troublesome Achilles injury had restricted him to only one substitute appearance and one start in the last two National League games, and he was left out of the starting line-up.

His replacement in the number five jersey was Whitecross' Mark Shields, who trailed after Killian Brady and Martin Reilly and hit two wides in the first half before finally popping one over in the second half.

Yet when Kernan replaced Shields five minutes after the restart, you could see that the 2005 Young Footballer of the Year was hungry to get involved and determined to stake a claim for his old role.

In his sixth minute on the field, he received a pass from Ciaran McKeever and went through the defensive cover like a bullet, fisting the ball over the bar.

He clipped over a free that James McEnroe coughed up for a foul on Jamie Clarke and with five minutes to go, Ethan Rafferty fielded a Cavan kickout and it was worked to Kernan who had his initial shot saved, before he fisted the rebound over.

Still, his relentless self-examination didn't allow for too much self-satisfaction.

After taking part in the post-match running session with the other subs, Kernan said: "My lungs are on fire, which is something you would expect because of a long lay-off.

"But that will stand to me. I made a few mistakes as well but at least I'm back out and stuck in the middle of it and if you don't get out there you will never learn from them.

"I'm just thrilled to be back stuck in the middle of it. I have obviously work now to do to get back into the first XV for the next day but I am just glad with the team.

"We are where we want to be and it gives me the opportunity to stake a claim."

The defensive structure that Armagh employed – keeping Cavan scoreless from play until the 47th minute –came from seemingly nowhere.

Yet Armagh's scoring average after seven league games was a meagre -9pts. Perhaps they were not as bad as previously thought.

"If you consider during the league that Ciaran McKeever wasn't playing, James Morgan wasn't playing, Brendan Donaghy wasn't playing, myself and Charlie Vernon missed quite a chunk of it, Mark Shields missed a chunk of it. That's five of your starting six defenders," Kernan points out.

"And then the younger players that are in, it's hard on them because they have no experienced men around them so they can be exposed. We never really took any tankings, and bar Monaghan there wasn't much in all our games.

"We just maybe lacked that wee bit of experience, a bit of know-how to stand men up, to push men wide and make the opportunities a bit harder for the opposition."

Kernan woke up yesterday morning aware that the qualifiers draw was on, but that for the time being, Armagh had nothing to do with it. A sweet feeling indeed.

"The way we have been going this past number of years, we haven't been winning many Championship games and today is one to savour.

"The way I would look at it now is what better challenge to go and test yourself against the top teams in the province – Tyrone or Monaghan or whoever it may be.

He added: "It's a challenge for us, it's a step up but that's what the Championship is all about, it's not something we should be shirking from, we should front up and see where it takes us.

"Today should be our benchmark, we shouldn't be dipping below this, which is what we tend to do quite often. The ball is in our court now."

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