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McKernan keen to home in on progress

 

By John Campbell

Kevin McKernan is preparing to embark on his 10th season in the Ulster Senior Football Championship, yet playing at home in the opening round of fixtures has been something of a rarity.

McKernan will line out for Down against Armagh on Sunday in the knowledge that performing at Pairc Esler, Newry is a rare bonus which the team will bid to capitalise on.

Not since 2006 has Down's name come out of the hat as a first-named team when the draw was made, although they have hosted replays in both 2008 and 2014.

The absence of the Ulster title since 1994 is a bone of contention within the Mourne County, this stark statistic tending to detract somewhat from the county's five All-Ireland triumphs to date.

For McKernan, Sunday's mission against Armagh will have particular resonance.

To date this year, he has shared in St Mary's University College's unexpected success in the Sigerson Cup and played his part in keeping Down in Division Two against what were deemed to be insurmountable odds going into their last match away to Cork.

But a late, late Jerome Johnston point ultimately proved crucial in helping Eamonn Burns' side retain their status and McKernan sees this bonus as having a significant effect on morale for Sunday's tie.

"It's great that we stayed up but we must push on from here," insisted the Burren clubman. "I know that our league form was maybe not the best but we are where we are. It's hard to avoid criticism in this day and age but no one hurts more than the players and I suppose social media gives a lot of people the opportunity to voice their opinion.

"Everyone is entitled to their view but it gets to the point where you're just saying to yourself, 'can you be a bit more positive and try and add to the whole thing in terms of what you can do for the county?'"

McKernan's versatility has helped to underpin the Down side ever since he made his debut. He has played at centre-half-back, wing-back and wing-forward, his willingness to fulfil whatever role was required under different managers a contributory factor to his longevity.

In the 2010 All-Ireland final against Cork when Down lost by 0-16 to 0-15, McKernan scored a point from the centre-half-back position and he has remained a driving force in an outfit which has undergone considerable change in more recent years.

"I don't think too many teams have had the turnover players we have had but our focus now is on putting in a good performance against Armagh," added McKernan.

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