Friday 17 November 2017

Kernans cast off family ties

Former Armagh boss Joe Kernan consoles his son Aaron after their All-Ireland qualifier defeat to Derry last year
Former Armagh boss Joe Kernan consoles his son Aaron after their All-Ireland qualifier defeat to Derry last year
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

When Aaron Kernan looks into the sitting room of his home on Newry Road out of Crossmaglen now he no longer sees his father sitting there jotting down notes on players or making logistical plans for the days and weeks ahead.

No longer is the house the fortress for Armagh football it had been for the previous six years. On Sunday morning the front door will open to four of the current Armagh football squad braced for their Ulster championship opener against Cavan in Breffni Park.


For the first time, Joe Kernan's four eldest sons are all in an Armagh senior squad. He's no longer the boss. It took his departure to double the numbers. Aaron Kernan offers this statistic as a striking parallel to the days when whispers of nepotism echoed in their ears.

It got to Joe, in Aaron's opinion, more than it ever got to them. But if there was a positive aside to his departure after last year's qualifier defeat, apart from the obvious legacy he left, it was that the Kernan boys would be seen to be self-sufficient from then on.

It was something Joe Kernan himself touched upon when he spoke at the launch of TV3's championship coverage.

Ulster has had an unpalatable recent history of abuse of managers who carried their sons on county squads.

Mickey Harte has had it for his selection of Mark, Mickey Moran ran the gauntlet over Conleth's presence in a Derry team. PJ O'Hare was in the firing line with Darren's emergence until he bagged two goals against Cavan in an Ulster first round.

Regardless of ability, and Aaron Kernan has plenty, there are elements of support who will always draw the conclusion that nepotism is at work.

Aaron saw how even the unprecedented success Armagh enjoyed under his father's stewardship couldn't shield him from the inevitable sniping.

"I think it was pretty evident from Dad, the fact that certain people had been giving us stick, purely for the reasons that we were his sons and that we were on the team.

"It definitely affected him, there was no two ways about it. It had even got to him a bit more than it had got to us. It wasn't an easy situation," recalled Aaron.

Still, he admits he might have had to wait for his own breakthrough if it wasn't for his father back in 2005.

"Maybe I was very fortunate that I got a lucky break to get into the team in 2005. He gave me a chance in a national league semi-final that perhaps I shouldn't have got. I wasn't standing out as much as maybe I should have been to break on to the team considering things had been going so well in the league.

"I was fortunate to get it, we got on a winning run that year and confidence was high. Maybe it was a bit easier to fit in," he said. Aaron believes he and his brother Stephen, a year older than him at 25, always deserved their shot at inter-county football anyway.

"We have seven Armagh county titles, we have three Ulster clubs, an All-Ireland U-21 medal and yet it still didn't seem to silence certain people.

"Maybe it's the way Gaelic football has progressed over the last 10 or 15 years. We have some of the most dedicated, loyal supporters in the country but 10 or 15 years ago, if you wanted to know anything about Gaelic football you had to go the game and watch the players.

"Now you turn on your TV, listen to a radio or lift any newspaper and the coverage is mass, people reporting, commenting, analysts. A lot of people seem to follow what is fed to them in the papers and unfortunately it happened in Tyrone as well. Down football has it now (Ross/Aidan Carr) and even Antrim hurling.

"It is very unfair on the player. At the end of the day we have to go home and live in our own town, meet our own public face to face and people from your county face to face.

"It is very hard to take when people question your football ability just purely for the reason that your father is the manager.


"I felt we've been involved in enough successful teams to merit being given a shot at playing county football but obviously you can't control what everyone's opinion is of you. It is unfortunate but some people don't seem to care if they are offending you."

Tony and Paul Kernan, holders of All-Ireland club medals from 2007, have since joined the squad at Peter McDonnell's invitation which, Aaron feels, is further justification that they can stand on their own merits.

"Tony has had serious injuries but he's over them now and I'd say, not because he is my brother, if Armagh had him against Cork in last year's All-Ireland semi-final, they would have won. He scored the winning point in three of our Ulster club games last year."

For Aaron and Armagh, Sunday is a new dawn. He'll miss his father's presence but there is excitement at the prospect of what they can achieve over the coming few years.

"We've been left with a great legacy by players like Kieran McGeeney and Diarmaid Marsden and we want to build on that now."

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