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Kernan aims to put boot into Donegal


Missed opportunities:Tony Kernan fails to score with the second of two crucial kicks for Armagh in the 2014 All-Ireland quarter-final against Donegal

Missed opportunities:Tony Kernan fails to score with the second of two crucial kicks for Armagh in the 2014 All-Ireland quarter-final against Donegal

©INPHO/Donall Farmer

Missed opportunities:Tony Kernan fails to score with the second of two crucial kicks for Armagh in the 2014 All-Ireland quarter-final against Donegal

August 9, 2014. The All-Ireland quarter-final. There were 72,440 people there, a mix of tangerine and gold, all with their eyes trained on Tony Kernan of Armagh.

A Stefan Campbell goal had put the Orchard County up on Donegal with 10 minutes left but a scoring burst from Michael Murphy and Paddy McBrearty wrestled back the one-point lead for the Ulster champions.

Kernan had a free to level it in additional time. Unusually for him, he took it out of his hands. He missed.

The resulting kickout from Paul Durcan sailed over the sideline. McBrearty, coming off the field after being substituted, volleyed the ball up the line in an effort to run the clock further down. Referee Joe McQuillan moved the ball in closer to the Donegal goal.

Kernan lined it up again, this time off the ground, but it fell short. The last kick of the game. They had lost.

The week after, Kernan was gracious enough to meet the Belfast Telegraph for a one-to-one interview and mulled over the first, more achievable kick. He said: "You have to trust in your technique and I doubted it. I should have put the kick on the ground. We lost the game and we have to move on."

Tomorrow, he will get a chance to redeem those misses. During this year's National League, he scored 2-14, 0-12 coming from the dead ball.

But Donegal have spooked dead ball specialists before, not least the treatment Tyrone goalkeeper Niall Morgan received in 2013 when a wall of men stood in front of his efforts and kept up a dialogue.

And then, there's the crowd with their booing.

"In certain games you play in, you can have thousands of people sledging you. It's not going to annoy me or keep me awake," insisted Kernan.

And he has his own thoughts on the great sledging debate of our times.

"I don't think it's a huge issue. There's always a bit of banter but I have never been the subject of any sledging.

"Players talk but the majority of it is quite humorous."

If he can let that roll off him, he can't ignore the increased hype around Armagh this year, now with their greatest-ever captain, Kieran McGeeney, back as manager.

"We're more positive than we were 12 months ago but we can't get carried away with ourselves or look too far down the line," reasoned Kernan.

"Donegal and Monaghan can look at winning Ulster titles but the rest of us can look at the first round and say, 'That's what our focus is'. That's what it needs to be and whatever happens after Sunday will happen but that's our main focus."

He's an old hand at this game by now. Last year his performances earned him an All-Star nomination and this is now his eighth season in an Armagh jersey.

Kernan has a seriously conscientious streak that appears to be a strong family trait, reflected by working with BTW Shields, looking after the affairs of shopping centres in Glasgow, Dunedin, Doncaster and London.

It requires a lot of flying back and forth but still, he never missed a single training session or game last year, not only for Armagh, but also for Crossmaglen Rangers.

And when we bring it all back home, it seems odd that he never got to play under his father, Joe, but yet no surprise that his successor Peter McDonnell had him in his first Armagh Championship team when they beat Cavan in Breffni Park in 2008.

He finished his debut season with an Ulster title - Armagh's last. He thinks about that era quite a bit.

"I think that was the tail end of the good days for Armagh. We had some real leaders - Stevie McDonnell, Paul McGrane, and we beat Fermanagh after a replay. I have one (Ulster) medal. I would like to add more to it but we will look at Donegal first."

As for the Armagh decline in subsequent years, he refuses to blame others.

He states with certainty: "The players have to ship a lot of responsibility. The standards that had been there from the great players like Oisin (McConville), Kieran (McGeeney) Tony and John (McEntee), Diarmuid Marsden... they had standards in training and everything that they did and maybe we fell by the wayside."

While the county might have spent several years struggling with an identity crisis, Kernan still had his Crossmaglen sideline, racking up Armagh, Ulster and All-Ireland titles.

Possibly his favourite year was when he captained the Rangers in 2013, with his father Joe back in the manager's role for one more hurrah.

Back then, he played with his brothers Paul, Stephen and Aaron. The four even lined out for Armagh together under McDonnell, but now Tony is the last playing county football.

Aaron's retirement last year has left a void, but came as no surprise to his brother.

"I knew what he had in his head," explained Tony.

"I would have liked him to hang around. I miss him. I wasn't overly surprised.

"You can see why others were surprised. It would be great to have him but we have to work with what we have."

And they have plenty. Armagh are back.

Ulster SFC: Athletic Grounds, Sunday 2.00pm (BBC2)



Belfast Telegraph