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Ireland International Rules coach Joe Kernan: Ulster sides are set to shake off the shackles

By John Campbell

Joe Kernan, manager of the Ireland team that will meet Australia in the International Rules Test at Croke Park in November, predicts that a feast of attacking football awaits fans when the Championship season gathers pace.

In common with most people, Kernan has harboured concerns in relation to the defensive tactics that have been in evidence for the most part during the Allianz League but suggests that teams will be prepared to shake off the shackles in their pursuit of success in high summer.

And he reveals that in terms of the International Rules, he will be seeking attack-minded players who are proficient at high fielding and accurate kick-passing.

The 2002 Armagh All-Ireland winning manager preached a positive philosophy while taking his club Crossmaglen Rangers to Ulster and All-Ireland club glory before carrying a similar mantra into the inter-county arena and now he's determined to do what he can to reignite the spirit of adventure which has been conspicuous by its absence from football of late.

"People seem to hone in and make a meal of the bad matches but on the weekends when there were a couple of bad matches there were four or five good matches and this should not be forgotten," insists Kernan.

"Certainly there are a number of things we would all like to see including teams being more adventurous but the bottom line is that there is a big amount of pressure both on teams and on players individually.

"You go through spells like this where teams try certain things but when it comes to later on in the year in the Championship you will see teams opening up.

"I think they will get the handcuffs off and let the ball flow.

"Our Association is in good health no matter what the detractors might be saying."

This assessment is certainly borne out by the fact that four Ulster players made it into the top 10 overall scorers list in the Allianz League with Fermanagh sharpshooter Sean Quigley, who had much to do with his team's charge into the Division Three final, top of the heap.

His prodigious 4-49 underlined admirable consistency throughout the competition while Antrim's CJ McGourty was next in line from an Ulster perspective with 3-38 while Down's Donal O'Hare racked up 4-29. Donegal skipper Michael Murphy once again figured in the scoring chart with a total of 2-32 to his credit.

"When you look at scoring returns such as these, you see the depth of forward talent we have in Ulster alone and I feel that we will be seeing more from these same players and from many others too, particularly when the Championship moves into full swing," states Kernan.

"The fans who pay good money to see matches want to see open, attacking football and I would love to see the players deliver on this."

He has already mapped out his selection strategy for the International Rules Test and knows precisely the calibre of players he will be seeking out over the course of the Championship series.

"I said from day one when I got the job that I will be looking for players who can kick the ball," states Kernan.

"I would like to think that by managers telling players they can accrue benefits from actually delivering kick passes, then we will see more of that during the summer.

"That's the way we are going to play the Test in November - it is our plan to move the ball fast and long and keep the emphasis on attack.

"The emphasis will be very much on kick-passing."

Kernan will assess the Ulster Championship in detail and in conjunction with his selectors Dermot Earley, Pádraic Joyce and Darragh O Sé, he will also scan the other provincial tournaments for talent as he attempts to compile his Ireland squad as early as possible.

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