Kernan keen to drive Galway forward
Armagh legend ready for hard yards in bid to enjoy new wave of success
Published 02/02/2010 | 05:00
More leaders, stronger finishers, harder workers. Sound familiar? Joe Kernan didn't say it but he couldn't disguise what he is striving for either. Transplanting some of the qualities that were the cornerstones of his previous projects in Crossmaglen and Armagh into his latest mission on the other side of the country is already a work in progress.
Some may bristle at the notion that Galway are in need of an 'orange vaccination' and marrying those qualities with the natural finesse and skill associated with so many of the county's footballers, may be easier said than done.
But it's the challenge that has jolted Kernan into three-weekly Aer Arann return flights from east to west or alternatively a six-hour, 640-kilometre road trip through eight toll booths in his capacity as Galway's guiding hand.
Nothing else, only the lure of winning another All-Ireland has sent Kernan on the road again.
When it dawned on him that he couldn't take his preferred pathway back to Armagh with four sons in contention for squad places and all the trappings that go with that, Galway held sufficient attraction for him.
"Some have said to me 'you had a good record when you were in charge (of Armagh), so why would you put yourself through this?' But the thought of managing another team with a chance of winning an All-Ireland . . . not every county would have appealed to me, but Galway certainly did," he admitted.
So far he likes what he has seen and senses a burning desire to set the record of recent years straight. Galway have not been beyond an All-Ireland quarter-final since their last Sam Maguire triumph in 2001. That hurts and Kernan is keen now to play on that hurt.
Already he has sent out the invitations for leaders, not something Galway would appear to have in abundance at first glance. Kernan might beg to differ. He's left the captaincy open until the end of the league, confident that three or four potential candidates will shoot up their hands for such responsibility.
"I'm looking for leaders and I think I have them. I haven't picked a captain yet. I'll pick at the end of the league because I'm looking for someone to be the leader. I think it's a good idea that I'm giving them a chance to stand up and become a leader. There are four or five boys I have in my mind for the job. Some of them are going to jump out and say 'I'm the man to lead the team this year'."
A small pointer from the league. Their last two campaigns have gone down to final day match-ups with Kerry which they have needed to win to have any chance of booking final places. But on both occasions they have lost. That has told its own tale as much as any championship demise and given Kernan food for thought.
Too nice? "Some people say too nice, a lot of people say they didn't work hard enough but they have natural ability and some of the forwards they have in Galway, they're as good as any other team in the country. If you get three or four of them boys together and if they're on song and getting good ball in, they'll cause anybody problems."
At home in Crossmaglen and later at Armagh, Kernan prided himself on steering teams that finished strong. Think of the '02 All-Ireland final against Kerry or the 1999 club final against Ballina for hard evidence.
"Any team I've ever been involved with, club and county, we always finished strong. To be a successful team (you must finish strong) and you only have to look over the water this week.
"People were writing (Manchester) United off and they finished strong in two matches and when you look at Munster and now Leinster and Kerry at their best, any team that ever wins anything always finished strong and that's what we have to get the boys to learn.
"Over the history of the GAA, I go back to Meath and Roscommon (1991 All-Ireland semi-final). Roscommon were winning by six points in the All-Ireland semi-final and the announcement goes over the tannoys, 'All the stewards to end of match positions'. Six minutes later Meath had won by a point. That's the way it works and hopefully we can get these boys believing in themselves, playing as a team with a good work ethic and showing their true potential," he said.
"The one thing about Galway is that they were great footballers but when they didn't have the ball, they didn't work hard enough to get it back and that's what we're going to try and get them to do. To work harder to get the ball."
Kernan has injuries ahead of the league and the involvement of four Corofin players in the tail end of the All-Ireland club championship also restricts his hand. But he guarantees that Padraic Joyce will return before the end of the imminent campaign.
"I saw someone writing in the paper that Padraic could be finished. He will be back this year," he said. "He has had an injury and has come back from it, he's nearly there. When you are a wee bit older, it's a long lonely road but he's done that. I hope he will be back for maybe the third or fourth game in the league."