Injury misfortune appears to have dogged the footsteps of Stephen Kernan over the course of the last twelve months.
When Crossmaglen were in the throes of landing their sixth Ulster Club crown prior to last Christmas, he suffered a dislocated shoulder not once but twice.
And just when he was acclimatising himself to competitive action in the early part of this year, he endured a pulled hamstring - the first of three similar injuries that have severely curtailed his involvement with both Crossmaglen Rangers and Armagh this year.
Indeed, when the Rangers collected their thirteenth Armagh title on the trot in September and then launched their bid for a third consecutive Ulster crown, 25-year-old financial executive Stephen was conspicuous by his anbsence.
But the team’s advance to the Ulster semi-final heralded the return of the elegant playmaker to the side and he was again at the fulcrum of the action when they drew with Ballinderry last weekend.
Tomorrow he’s hoping that the Rangers can complete what he refers to as “unfinished business” against the Derry champions although he is acutely aware that the game will impose its collective and individual pressures.
“The fact that I have missed a lot of action this year is disappointing for me but it’s good to be involved again. I played for Armagh against Wexford in the All Ireland quarter-final and picked up my last injury then,” explains Stephen (pictured).
“I was hoping that Crossmaglen would make it through to the closing stages of the Ulster series as this might give me a chance to get some game time and that’s the way it has worked out.”
His restoration to the side has heightened his desire to see the Rangers collect their third consecutive Ulster crown.
“This would ensure that we would go through to the All Ireland Club semi-final and this would certainly give us a strong focus in the early part of the New Year. For me personally, it would also represent a further opportunity to maybe get more action if selected in the team. I’ll just keep my fingers crossed and hope for the best,” he smiles.
His brothers Aaron, Paul and Tony are also in the Rangers line-up tomorrow and he’s happy to make it a quartet of family representatives.
“Obviously it’s a boost to have the four of us in there but we certainly take nothing for granted, not with the level of competition for places that there is within the squad right now,” adds Stephen.
Tony was substituted last week-end but his overall accuracy could prove a plus-factor tomorrow while Paul and Aaron are perhaps the two best wing-backs in the Ulster Club series overall.
Stephen himself grabbed a point last Sunday and while he would relish the prospect of landing a few scores tomorrow, he will happily settle for a Rangers win irrespective of who puts the points on the board.
“We have a number of players who can takes scores well so it does not really matter who gets them. As long as we have something to spare at the finish, that’s all that matters as far as we are concerned,” stresses Stephen.
The fact that John McEntee has been cleared to play following his red-carding in last week’s drawn game has significantly bolstered the Rangers morale for the contest.
“To be going in without a player of John Mac’s pedigree would have been considerably disappointing for us so it’s good that he willbe involved. We’re all very happy to have him on board - he brings great experience and skill to the table and is a great leader in every way,” points out Stephen.