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Down star Kevin McKernan slams away-day draws

By John Campbell

Down midfield ace Kevin McKernan is urging the Ulster Council to review the provincial football championship, given what he believes is a marked imbalance which emanates from the current fixtures format.

McKernan, engrossed in preparations for his county's preliminary round tie against Tyrone on May 18, laments the fact that yet again the Mourne County are forced to travel for their opening assignment in the competition.

"Since I came into the side seven or eight years ago, we have always been drawn away from home in our opening match and that does not seem to be fair," states McKernan. "I think that this is one of the few competitions in the sporting world in which this would be allowed to happen.

"We have a superbly modernised stadium at Newry and I would just love us to get a championship opener there.

"It is not fair to our players that we are always asked to travel at the start of the championship and it is a burden on our supporters."

Down will take to the road again this year, this time for Healy Park, Omagh, and a clash with Mickey Harte's Tyrone, who will be keen to put the disappointing form which marked the second half of their league campaign behind them.

"At least Tyrone have the comfort of playing at home. They are getting a great chance and obviously they will be favourites. We seem to be always asked to travel whether it is in the preliminary round or the first round proper," states McKernan.

"I would like if the Ulster Council could take a closer look at this and possibly come up with some sort of format that might alleviate this sort of imbalance. Every team should be given the chance to stage major championship matches at home at least every second year.

"There is no point in having state of the art grounds if teams are not going to get the opportunity to play in them.

"While it is certainly useful to have home advantage for league games, there is a lot to be gained from playing on home soil in championship matches."

McKernan's plea is certainly based on solid facts.

In 2006, his side were forced to play Cavan at Casement Park in their opener which they won, while the following year Cavan were again their opponents at the first hurdle at Breffni Park with the match going to a replay which Down won.

In 2008, the Mournemen again proved replay specialists by beating Tyrone at home after the sides had finished all-square at Omagh and in 2009 they had a fruitful trip to Enniskillen, beating Fermanagh.

In 2010, Down went to Ballybofey where they beat Donegal en route to the All-Ireland final but in 2011 they surrendered to Armagh at the Athletic Grounds before coming good at Enniskillen once again the following year.

Last year Down served up one of their best championship performances when they overcame Derry at Celtic Park.

McKernan insists he is not seeking excuses to explain away the team's occasional poor performance on the road.

"I think every team is entitled to get a fair crack of the whip. We seem to be almost always away in the championship and while I am not suggesting for one moment that we might set the world on fire if we were to be playing at home, nevertheless this helps to stir interest in games and encourages people to get behind the side," he states.

"I am sure this might prompt other teams to have a look at their championship itineraries to discover how often they have been favoured with home advantage.

"I am certainly not making a special case for Down, I'm making a request on behalf of my county which could ultimately see every team derive similar benefits."

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