IT’S a testament to how the family has worked its way into the marrow of Armagh football that there are more Kernans involved in the senior football set-up this year than last, despite the gaping hole left by Big Joe’s decision to walk away.
The county won four Ulster titles and its first ever All-Ireland under Joe’s watch, but his legacy to the game in the county involves numerous strands, his success with Crossmaglen and his own offspring among them.
Stephen, the eldest, was the first to be blooded in a Dr McKenna Cup match against St Mary’s in January of 2004. Aaron followed suit a month later in a league game against Galway and has emerged as one of the game’s finest attacking wing-backs.
The quota has doubled this year. Tony made it a hat-trick with his appearance against Cavan in the league back in
February and Paul got the nod from Peter McDonnell two months ago in the impressive home win over Dublin.
“It is definitely enjoyable having the three boys there but it is just another three boys who can give you a bit more stick at times too,” said Aaron who has already appeared 13 times for the county in the championship. “It’s great from a family point of view.
“It is something I am sure mum and dad are very proud of.
“That’s where you have to leave it though, with your parents. You have to go out on the field and prove yourself, perform.
“It will be nice to look back on in years to come but not right now. This is championship time of year and it is all about getting wins.”
Dad will still be keeping tabs on his boys in his role as analyst for TV3 this summer but the man they will want to impress most is McDonnell, who was given the not inconsiderable task of reproducing his illustrious predecessor’s many achievements.
A quietly-spoken school principal, small in stature with a shaven head, McDonnell is in many ways the polar opposite to Big Joe and he has attempted to introduce Armagh to a slightly more expansive game than in years past.
There have been no drastic changes in terms of personnel, however, and it remains to be seen if the county can recapture the elixir that brought them such a bounty of success since the turn of the century.
“It’s been very enjoyable,” said Aaron. “He hasn’t made wholesale changes. Peter is his own man. He is a very shrewd and intelligent man. Himself and his backroom team have done excellent work.
“They have left no stone unturned, like in the past. Time will tell whether we are as good as years gone by. Sunday is a massive test. I don’t ever remember Armagh playing Cavan in Breffni Park in my lifetime.
“The last time we went and played them there in the league was 2004 and they gave us a serious hiding that day. I don’t envisage anything other than a battle at Breffni Park on Sunday.”
The world beyond Armagh should be tuning in attentively to events in Breffni tomorrow. Four Ulster titles in the last six years says everything about their potency inside the province but their candidacy for higher honours remains in question.
Between 1999 and 2006, the county was tripping off the tongue whenever talk turned to possible All-Ireland contenders but the veneer of potential greatness has slipped since the August defeat to Kerry two seasons ago.
“To be honest, the focus has changed to just trying to win a championship game. I’m not going back ten or 15 years or be smart with that statement but we have been beaten in the last three championship games we have played in.
“That does take you back to the start of the 90s when we were struggling to win championship games. We have a new manager, a lot of new players and a fresh approach this year so we need to go out and get this win. We can’t really talk about Ulster or All-Irelands at the minute.”
They still possess the ability to intimidate. The side that lines out tomorrow will be decorated with players weighed down by provincial and All-Ireland trinkets at club and county levels and Cavan seem to have taken note.
Either Donal Keogan is a very good actor or the Cavan manager is genuinely wary of the damage Armagh can inflict on his side. Hence his talk earlier this week of adopting an Orchard-style blanket defence for this fixture.
Kernan remains sceptical that any inter-county manager would flag his intentions so publicly in the week leading up to a championship game but he can see where Keogan is coming from.
“I suppose it is testament to the likes of Stevie (McDonnell), Ronan (Clarke), Oisín (McConville) and the other boys in the forward line and the respect that they have built up around the country this past few years with their performances.
“They are marquee forwards. I’m sure any team coming up against them would be coming up with a plan to counteract them but it is up to us to try and get early ball in to them.”
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