Two players who were left with mixed feelings after their clubs progressed into next Sunday’s Ulster club football final now have special reason for eyeing success.
Crossmaglen Rangers defender Aaron Kernan, outstanding in his team’s triumphant march to date this year, was red-carded in the semi-final win over Ballinderry Shamrocks while Burren centre-half-half back Ciaran McGovern was dismissed in his team’s last four victory over Monaghan champions Latton last weekend.
Since their respective expulsions came on the back of two yellow cards, both will be eligible to assist their clubs in what is viewed as the most attractive provincial decider for some years.
Kernan’s dynamic linking between defence and attack has been central to Crossmaglen’s strategy to date and the 25-year-old financial consultant, a fixture in the Armagh county side for several years now, is aware that Burren will represent a massive challenge to his team’s hopes of landing a ninth Ulster crown since 1996.
“Burren have retained their Down title and they are now in another Ulster final. That shows just how consistent they are. They will want to get their hands on the title this time,” maintains Kernan.
His brothers Stephen and Tony will join him in the Rangers line-up but another brother. Paul, will again be an absentee with a shoulder problem.
Like Kernan, McGovern is anxious to underline that his dismissal against Latton was a temporary blip.
Along with Kevin McKernan and David McEntee, who was man of the match against Latton, he forms perhaps the strongest line in the Burren side although the half-forward unit of Conal McGovern, Sean Murdock and Paudie Poland snapped up seven points from play against Latton.
Burren will be without Conor Toner, Eoin McGovern and the vastly experienced Declan Rooney but manager Frank Dawson is taking great heart from the performances of Anton McArdle and Alan Higgins at midfield.
With David McKenna and Johnny Hanratty again set to shoulder the engine-room responsibility for the Rangers, a fascinating battle in the middle third of the park is in progress.
Dawson, pleased with the way in which his players closed out the game against Lattton despite having been reduced to 13 players, believes his side has matured.
“The average age of this Burren team is only about 22 but the lads are learning all the time. We ran Crossmaglen very close last year and we have gained further experience in the interim, which I would hope will stand to us on Sunday,” states Dawson.
“We did not panic in the closing minutes against Latton, we kept our heads and retained possession at a vital stage to win the game which pleased me.”
Rangers joint manager Tony McEntee has not been particularly impressed by his team’s performances lately and anticipates they can show an improvement.
“When we played Burren last year they made things very difficult for us. They have maintained their good form and will take confidence from that. We have not been as convincing as I would like up until now,” says McEntee.
But he is aware that if Jamie Clarke, Tony Kernan and Aaron Cunningham, in particular, bring their shooting boots then his team can thrive.
Cunningham, a lithe half-forward with pace and ball control, has matured into a quality forward whose accurate shooting from distance has been a contributory factor to Rangers’ arrival in the final.
And with old hands Michael McNamee and Oisin McConville in support, the Burren defence, in which Daniel McCartan and Gerard McCartan are key figures, could be in for a demanding shift.