Cross need to hit ground running, insists Kernan
Crossmaglen Rangers skipper Aaron Kernan has just pocketed his 16th Armagh Senior Football Championship medal but even though he is just shy of his 36th birthday, his appetite for success remains undiminished.
Tonight he will lead his side out against Clontibret in the first quarter-final of the Ulster Club Championship at the Athletic Grounds (7pm) in the confident expectation that the new tranche of players within the side can spark a further period of dominance at county and provincial level.
Under manager Kieran Donnelly, the Rangers have undergone something of a transformation and Kernan sees what he describes as "encouraging signs" for the future.
With Clontibret having jettisoned Scotstown's ambitions of making it five Monaghan Championship titles on the trot and with Kernan's former Rangers playing colleague John McEntee at their helm, no one in the Armagh champions' camp is under any illusions that this will be anything other than the ultimate test of skill and endurance.
"Obviously the fact that John is in charge of Clontibret adds a bit more spice to this particular game but I believe that we have faith in our own ability," insisted Kernan.
With players such as Alan Farrelly, Stephen Morris, Callum Cumiskey, Johnny McKeever, Rian O'Neill and Oisin O'Neill currently making a big impact, Kernan is confident they can rise to the challenge tonight.
But with Clontibret boasting the combined talents of experienced Monaghan county team aces Conor McManus, Vinny Corey and Dessie Mone as well as the skills of their corps of emerging talent, Kernan is aware that his team will be put to the test.
And he sounds what he clearly feels is a necessary warning ahead of the game, which is expected to attract a huge crowd to the Athletic Grounds.
"It was very disappointing how flat we were in the first half of our county final against Ballymacnab," revealed Kernan. "I thought we were well prepared and we had been well focused in the week leading up to the game but for some reason we just seemed to be leaden-footed.
"We did not seem to be up to the pitch of it all and it was far from ideal but I have to say it was the younger players who came out strongly in the second half and helped to take the game to Ballymacnab. In doing so, they offered encouraging signs for the future.
"Our aim now must be to achieve this from the start. We simply need to hit the ground running."
Clontibret's triumph in the Monaghan Championship has triggered fresh momentum within the side and manager McEntee, who won a shoal of Armagh, Ulster and All-Ireland medals during his lengthy career with Crossmaglen, has shown that he is capable of eliciting the best he can get from the players under his command.