Grateful Kernan to relish his final chance
Stephen Kernan was a reluctant spectator when Crossmaglen Rangers drew with Garrycastle in the All Ireland club football final at Croke Park on St Patrick’s Day.
The red card incurred by the cultured centre-half-forward in the semi-final win over Dr Crokes meant that he was denied the opportunity of leading his side into battle and he had resigned himself to missing out on the possibility of mounting the Hogan Stand steps to take delivery of the Andy Merrigan Cup.
But fate, which dealt the 29-year-old Kernan a cruel blow against Dr Crokes, was to prove kind to Kernan after all.
The drawn game means another bite at the All Ireland cherry for his side and now the eldest of the four Kernan brothers in the side is even more determined that a sixth national club crown should be collected.
It’s in the more modest surroundings of Kingspan Breffni Park, Cavan that episode two will be enacted and should Rangers manage to win Kernan will not complain about the trappings of a trophy presentation.
“It’s always special to win something in Croke Park, of course, but we are just so glad to be still involved. It was frustrating to miss the drawn game. Obviously I felt very disappointed at the manner in which I was sent off against Dr Crokes but there was nothing I could do,” says Kernan.
“My four weeks period of suspension ends just in time for this replay on Saturday and to say that I am looking forward to it would be an understatement.”
Kyle Brennan was his replacement at Headquarters but the skipper’s creativity and craft were missed from a Rangers attack that failed to spark in the first-half before coming to life in the third quarter.
Now Kernan is hoping that Rangers will find their feet from the outset in Saturday’s replay, conscious that Garrycastle will have absorbed lessons from the drawn encounter.
“They are a good side with a fine manager in Anthony Cunningham and they will feel they can lift their game up another notch. For our part we have to try and get into our stride early and not afford them too much leeway,” adds Kernan.
Rangers joint manager Tony McEntee has championed the cause of his banned captain and tried to have had his red card, which many considered unduly harsh, rescinded.
McEntee does not necessarily subscribe to the theory that this was a distraction in the build-up to the drawn game but he is emphatic that Rangers are now more focused than ever.
“We have to be, it’s as simple as that. We cannot afford to allow them to call the shots in the way they did in the first-half the last day,” asserts McEntee.
Dessie Dolan, the veteran Westmeath ace, proved a sharp thorn in the side of the Rangers defence and had much to do with his team’s four-points interval lead.
David McKenna and Johnny Hanratty will again be charged with winning primary possession at midfield for the Armagh and Ulster champions while Oisin McConville, Tony Kernan and Jamie Clarke can provide the scoring threat up front.
Garrycastle’s Paul Dillon was fortunate not to be sent off in the first-half of the drawn game when he appeared to head-butt a Ranger player – instead, he went on to wield a huge influence on the game.
Manager McEntee, though, believes that Stephen Kernan’s role as playmaker can be enhanced should his team win first-phase possession in the middle third of the park.
“We have got to take the game to Garrycastle,” insists McEntee. “Stephen is capable of maximising our possession and that is very important in terms of our overall strategy.”