Kernan aiming to recreate Orchard hunger

SO, now it starts. As the phoney war of the national league was reaching its anti-climatic conclusion last Sunday, eyes were already turning towards this Sunday and beyond.

This year’s championship was officially launched in Bank of Ireland in College Green yesterday, with Armagh manager Joe Kernan’s big frame seated centre-stage, exactly where it was when last summer ended.

Kernan’s charges begin their defence against Monaghan this weekend in Clones.

Little is known about Colm Coyle’s team - that tends to happen when counties languish in the nether reaches of Division Two, but Kernan, who realises Armagh’s biggest opponents this year could be hunger, is taking very little for granted.

“The game with Monaghan is one of those games other people are calling easy, because Monaghan are a bit of an unknown quantity at the moment.

"But, we are not taking them for granted. They won their last three games in the league, won the McKenna Cup beating Tyrone and reached the U-21 final in Ulster.

"Their team is a good blend of experience and some young players and I am sure Colm Coyle has learnt a trick or two from his Meath days.”

Of course, the question Kernan was waiting to answer yesterday was about hunger.

Armagh were a famished team last year, and the will to end their wilderness years pulled them through matches when all else failed.

It is possible they might not have the same will this time round, although Kernan did lead Crossmaglen to another two All-Ireland titles after they initially made the break-through.

“That is a difference I noticed from last year,” Kernan said.

“The team were going in last year still hurting from the couple of seasons they had before that. It doesn’t matter how well you think preparation is going, you need the white heat of a championship match to find out if the team is still hungry.

"It is only when the player is face down in the grass and asking himself do I really want to go through this again that they will discover if they are hungry enough or not.

“It is all about the hunger. I remember with Crossmaglen the year we won our first All-Ireland. Then, we lost in the Ulster semi-final the next year and I honestly believed that day they would win more All-Irelands because they hurted so much from the Ulster semi-final defeat. And they did go on to win more.”

There is a school of thought that Armagh may be one of those rare teams that develop an even sturdier spine of steel from their break-through success.

In the past, teams have faded after snatching Sam, but Kernan has instilled in the Orchard county such a belief that they may be even stronger this year.

The Armagh manager feels there was a sea-change in his players last summer.

“In the previous two or three years, we always seemed to lose out in the close games and we were getting a tag, even within our own county, as the nearly men.

"But, last year, we stuck at every game, a game lasts 70 minutes and dominance is going to shift during the course of it. And I still believe it is better to win a bad match than lose a good one.”

Tipperary manager Tom McGlinchy would be happy to win one game, especially after the league campaign his team have had.

The excitement of last year’s Munster final with Cork seemed a long way away during the spring. In Tipperary, though, building on any successful platform runs into problems.

“It is hard for teams like Tipperary. If you look at last year, a team like Sligo got on a run and set the championship alight and the likes of Limerick this year did the same in the league.

"But it is hard for teams like Tipperary. Last year, we relied on Brendan Cummins to carry us through a lot of games.

"Brendan this year has concentrated on hurling. It is hard to keep both going. In Tipperary, football is a second choice sport. The team really needs to be winning all the time to keep the momentum going.”

Tipperary footballers were one of the teams which newly elected president Sean Kelly had in mind when he spoke last week about the possibility of a limited transfer system.

McGlinchey, however, doesn’t believe the Association will warm to the idea.

“I don’t think it is going to be feasible. While we have GAA blood in us, that won’t happen. Maybe, in this day and age, with so many people working away from home and working in Dublin, you will have people transferring to other counties.

"But while there is GAA blood in us, nobody is going to want to leave their county on a large scale.”

A tanned Tom Carr was introduced as manager of one of the championship dark horses.

Following a year of turmoil, Roscommon will be keen to show the summer audience they are back on the right track.

But, they have the hardest of all the openers with a huge game against All-Ireland favourites Galway.

“I would much prefer to get Galway in the first round than have to play them in the Connacht final. If I asked everyone in the room who would win between Galway and Roscommon, there would be very few hands going up for Roscommon.

"But one of the great things about championship football is that it does come down to the day."

What Carr is looking for in his players is consistency. Unfortunate to be relegated from Division One of the Allianz NFL, Carr spoke jokingly of a conspiracy between Dublin and Galway to draw their match, and their drop to Division Two.

His team have mixed the excellent with the poor during the spring.

“The consistency is for teams to perform every day, not just now and again. One of the difficulties for the weaker sides is that they can beat anyone on any given day by playing at 100%, whereas some of the stronger teams can play at 85% and still win.

"That is one of the challenges facing Roscommon - to get our performance up to a more consistent level.”

At this stage of the summer, everyone has a chance. Some just have more of a chance than others.

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