Tuesday 16 January 2018

McKernan in the right position to claim glory

Colm Keys

Colm Keys

In his short life as a Down senior footballer, Kevin McKernan has been something of a journey man.

His nomadic ways have taken him from the bench to the team, back to the bench and back into the team again.

McKernan has gone from the "loneliness" of full-back to the misplacement of centre-forward and the uncertainty of being a roving corner-forward.

But nowhere is he more at home than as a half-back, the launch-pad from where he pressed forward to kick two pressure-relieving first-half points against Kildare in the All-Ireland semi-final, scores that ultimately were the difference between success and failure.

Pitted against Eamonn Callaghan -- one of Kildare's form players of their run through the qualifiers -- McKernan looked to be under some stress early on. But the liberation offered by those two scores was palpable, helping him to exert some control again in his private duel with Callaghan and consequently helping Down to establish a platform they wouldn't relinquish until it was too late.

"It's nice to be playing in the half-back line. I was in the full- back line as well and at times it's a lonely place. At least at centre-half you can play a bit of ball and you can get your hands on the ball and come out with it," he says.

For Down, gaining momentum has always been the key to building the type of confidence that they thrive on. But if McKernan ever feels they are getting ahead of themselves with such confidence mined from a summer of success through the qualifiers, he needs only to take himself back to their departure from the 2009 championship and the feeling it left him with.

"People say Down draw on confidence but it's easy for any team," he says.

Aughrim stirs him to a different reality.

"I remember walking out of the place that day. We couldn't even get out of it, there was so much traffic. We were sitting in the car park," he recalls.


"It was a lonely, lonely place; we couldn't even sit in the bus, it was that warm. We were just standing outside shaking our heads."

"Gerry Kinneavy was refereeing it and a few decisions didn't go our way. It's small things like that. We were under no illusions that Wicklow were a good side but no disrespect, Down teams should be performing better than that."

The truth is they haven't been. McKernan was part of the All-Ireland minor-winning team in 2005 which had the guiding hand of Martin Clarke at its core. However, Clarke's departure to Australia cast a shadow over Down football that only his return has been able to shed light on again.

McKernan, however, sees a collaboration of things working in their favour.

"Ross (Carr) had done a lot of good work for Down. He gave me my debut, he gave a lot of the younger boys their start. He did a lot of work in getting Martin back from Australia.

"James (McCartan) would say it himself: when he came in a lot of things fell into place. Kalum King concentrated on his football. He was (cage fighting) at UFC before that. He added to the team but it's been work rate from everyone -- the forwards dig in and it helps out the defence."

When they talk of lineage in Down the McCartan/O'Neill connection immediately comes to mind, but McKernan has his own roots to a previous All-Ireland success. His father Brendan was corner-back on the team that defeated Meath in that epic 1991 decider, a day when the current Down manager cut loose in spectacular fashion.

For Brendan McKernan there was the misfortune to be in direct opposition to Meath's stylish corner-forward Bernard Flynn that day as Flynn landed six points but still ended up on the losing team. Some 19 years on, the 22-year-old McKernan's memory of that occasion is limited to vague snapshots of the homecoming.

"It's all a blur, a long time ago; getting videos out and watching them, that's all my real memories. Maybe the homecoming more than anything I remembered vaguely, nothing really specific," he says.

"It's good watching them. I'd be proud that he was there and did it. But he's going to be no good to me come Sunday. I have to keep my feet on the ground and get ready."

Nor will the tradition of never having lost an All-Ireland final in five previous appearances be of any significance to Down.

"The buzz around the county at the minute is just generated from supporters of an older age who can remember those days," he reveals.

"Anyone from 25 years down has never experienced it.The history is there definitely but Mickey Linden is not going to score a goal for us on Sunday. We want to make our own history."

Irish Independent

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