Kernan gets call to resolve McKenna Cup dispute
JOE Kernan thought he had fulfilled most roles with club, county and province during a lifetime in football, but he now finds himself with a new challenge: peace envoy.
The Ulster Council has called on his diplomatic skills to broker a settlement between counties and colleges in the ongoing row over the use of players in the Dr McKenna Cup in January.
It has been a source of conflict for several years, leaving players with two masters seeking their services. Queen's University withdrew from this year's competition after losing several players to respective county teams.
Donegal manager Jim McGuinness and Tyrone boss Mickey Harte are among the county managers who have been critical of a system which deprives them of players in a month when they are experimenting with various options ahead of the Allianz League.
Next year's McKenna Cup starts on January 5, so Kernan will get to work quickly in an effort to find a formula which satisfies all sides.
"The Ulster Council have asked me to take a look at the problem and see if there's a way forward which everyone can agree on. As with all arguments, there are two sides, but if the goodwill is there, a solution can be found.
"At the end of the day, it's about lads playing football, which is all they are interested in. You don't want them being dragged between counties and colleges because no one gains that way.
"Counties are naming squads for the McKenna Cup around now, so it's important to make progress fairly quickly. I'll talk to as many people as possible and try to come up with a compromise," said Kernan.
He believes that the inclusion of third level colleges is good for the McKenna Cup, while also being helpful to the colleges as part of their Sigerson Cup preparations.
"Having the colleges involved gives county teams an extra game, which is always welcome in January when you're trying to test out players," he said.
"The colleges benefit too from playing county teams. In theory, it's a grand idea, but problems have arisen over county players on college teams. Both sides want them, which leaves them in a difficult situation.
"My job is to find the middle ground that satisfies all sides. It won't be easy, but it can be done if everyone approaches it with an open mind. Once you talk, you can solve any problem."
Armagh, Donegal, Tyrone, Queen's University make up Group A in the McKenna Cup; in Group B, Derry, Fermanagh, Monaghan and St Mary's do battle, while Antrim, Cavan, Down and UUJ contest Group C.
Group games will be played on January 5, 12, and 15, followed by the semi-finals on January 19 and the final the following Saturday.