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McKernan hoping to avoid more Cork woe

By John Campbell

Seven years ago, Down suffered one of the most agonising defeats in their history when Cork triumphed by the narrowest of margins (0-16 to 0-15) in the All-Ireland final.

Kevin McKernan is the only member of that starting team who still remains a first-choice player and it's not surprising that Sunday's crucial Allianz League Division One relegation confrontation with Cork has special resonance for him.

Memories of that 2010 heartbreak at Croke Park are still vivid for McKernan as indeed they are for all those who donned the famous red and black jersey on that showpiece occasion.

Since then, Down have extended their failure to make an impact in the Ulster Championship, alternated between Division One and Two in the league, nurtured a raft of players who have shown superb individual skills but have not quite managed to morph into a consistently successful unit and remained largely anonymous in terms of minor and U21 success.

Not since 1994 has the Ulster title come to rest in the county and a first All-Ireland title since that particular year remains an elusive dream.

When manager Eamonn Burns, who took over from Jim McCorry two years ago in rather contentious circumstances that were certainly not of his making, came in, he knew he was shouldering a huge task.

Now, as the Mournemen prepare for a mission that has as much to do with regaining credibility as it has with capturing a brace of much-needed points, the long-serving McKernan emphasises the importance of the match against the Leesiders, who have been further reinvigorated following their win over Derry last weekend.

"This is obviously a mammoth match for Down," reflected McKernan. "It is just so tight in Division One. The margins between ending up being in a position to challenge for the title and being in a battle for relegation are very fine and we certainly need to pull a big performance out of the bag in this one."

It could arguably be stated that no player has given more to the Down cause over recent years. McKernan has fulfilled several roles in the side and continues to display the kind of leadership that is calculated to warm the cockles of any manager's heart.

And while boss Burns fully appreciates the role played by whole-hearted Burren clubman McKernan, he is keen to elicit a huge all-round effort.

"It's all in our own hands as things stand," observed Burns. "There's not much difference between the top teams and the bottom teams in the division but against Cork we have to take our chances."

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