Kernan to give Ulstermen leading role in Rules tests
Ireland manager Joe Kernan plans to throw down the gauntlet to what could yet prove a sizeable Ulster representation in his squad for the forthcoming International Rules series in Australia.
With the competition reverting to a two-match format, Kernan is particularly keen that the players who are chosen should be at peak fitness for what he feels will be daunting tests in Adelaide and Perth.
When Ireland claimed the Cormac McAnallen trophy following their win against the Aussies in a stand-alone game two years ago, Ulster's Mattie Donnelly, Peter Harte, Conor McManus, Patrick McBrearty and Darren Hughes in particular stood tall.
Kernan, whose backroom team includes the formidable trio of Pádraic Joyce, Dermot Earley and Darragh Ó Sé, has already confirmed that he will be using three Irish players who are currently attached to AFL clubs - Zak Tuohy (Laois), Pearse Hanley (Galway) and Conor McKenna (Tyrone).
And Kernan (right) stresses that the competition could have special significance for McKenna.
"I know that Conor is particularly keen to do well for Ireland because he hails from the Eglish club, which is of course the club the late Cormac McAnallen, after whom the trophy for the winners is named, served with such distinction," said Kernan.
Along with Tuohy and Hanley, McKenna is expected to give the Irish side an added edge, although Kernan believes that the players who have been involved in previous International Rules contests can deploy their experience to good effect.
"At this stage we have a good idea of what we are looking for. We have commenced training and as far as possible I am trying to arrange this so that it takes place under conditions which are commensurate with those that we will experience Down Under," pointed out Kernan.
He has already undertaken a trawl of the major Championship matches and, while the spotlight will now fall on the closing stages of club Championships across the island, he is satisfied that he has put more than sufficient players under the microscope.
"The challenge for us as management now is to come up with a winning combination. Obviously we would like to win the first game which would provide us with a massive incentive to go on and close out the deal in the second game. But we know Australia will be up for battle and will not take took kindly to playing second fiddle on their own soil," said Kernan.
"While we were delighted to come out on top last year, we are certainly taking nothing for granted this time. I hope that many of those in Australia of Irish descent will come out and support us. Hopefully we will be able to give them plenty to cheer about."
But while Kernan is optimistic that his team can contain the Australians, there is no doubting his disappointment that Mayo powerhouse Lee Keegan, outstanding during the Championship season, is unavailable because of injury.
"Lee has been carrying a wee bit of an injury over from the All-Ireland final and it's just unfortunate that he won't be able to make it," conceded Kernan. "It's disappointing. I'm sad for him and I'm sad for us that he can't be part of the trip. It would have been great to have him on board because he is a quality player."
Kernan reveals that he did not make contact with any Dublin or Mayo players until after the All-Ireland final.
"I never phoned one of them until last weekend out of courtesy to their management and to the rest of their team," stated Kernan. "There's a couple of boys that can't make the trip because of work commitments. I have asked some 18 players from Dublin and Mayo.
"There are some of them still to come back to me regarding work commitments while there are three or four with injury problems. I would imagine that if we finish up with four players each from Dublin and Mayo we will be doing all right."