The four Kernan brothers — Aaron, Tony, Stephen and Paul — are poised to add further gloss to a rich family dynasty when they line out for Crossmaglen Rangers against Naomh Conaill in Sunday’s Ulster Club football championship final at St Tiernach’s Park, Clones.
The quartet have helped to underpin their team’s progress to date but this will only be the second occasion on which they will be in the side together for a provincial decider.
While Aaron (right-half-back) and Paul (full-back) will help solidify the defence, Stephen (centre three-quarters) will again be the fulcrum of an attack in which corner-forward Tony’s sharp-shooting skills are again expected to come into sharp focus. It was under their dad Joe that Rangers captured their first Ulster Club title in 1996 and he masterminded two more provincial crowns in 1998 and 1999 before handing over the management reins.
Since then Crossmaglen have sat on the provincial throne in 2004, ’06, ’07 and ’08 and have garnered All Ireland crowns in 1997, 1998, 2000 and 2007.
But any notion that the appetite for success within the club has been satiated is quickly rubbished by the Kernan clan and their playing colleagues.
Aaron, now a senior citizen in the side, declares: “We have a mix of old and new faces now and the hunger is greater than ever. We maybe were not even fancied to take the Armagh crown this year but we are very happy to be going into Sunday’s final now although we certainly know we have to improve on our recent form.”
His sentiment is endorsed by joint manager Tony McEntee who has undertaken a close study of a Naomh Conaill side that has stormed to impressive Ulster Club championship wins over Kingscourt Stars, Clontibret and Coalisland.
“We know we will be up against it. We need to keep our momentum going for the whole game. There is no good in us playing for spells and then losing concentration,” says McEntee.
Goalkeeper Paul Hearty and the evergreen Oisin McConville provide invaluable experience for Rangers with the exciting Jamie Clarke expected to create a big impression on his return from suspension while Danny |O’Callaghan, Stephen Finnegan, James Morgan, Franny Hanratty and Kyle Carragher are among the younger players who are eager to leave their imprint on the decider.
Naomh Conaill manager Cathal Corey insists that his side has gained invaluable experience in their journey into the final and will again look to players like Anthony Thompson, Leo McLoone, Dermot Walsh and Leon Thompson to set the tone for their performance.
“These guys have been to the fore for us but it will take a huge team effort if we are to beat Crossmaglen. They know how to win finals. You only have to look at their track record. It’s a big, big game for us and we are red-hot underdogs. But we have been underdogs in nearly all our matches so far and we are still in there,” says Tyrone native Corey.