Thursday 22 February 2018

Young guns turned our season around - Kernan

Tony Kernan (SPORTSFILE)
Tony Kernan (SPORTSFILE)
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

When Crossmaglen's Tony Kernan was planning his wedding and honeymoon, he insists he didn't hold out much hope that there'd be an All-Ireland semi-final to factor in.

Still, experience told him it'd be wise to consider that their campaign might run through the winter. After all, it had been that way more often than not, and his brother Aaron did something similar back in 2011.

"You're sort of planning 12 months in advance, and we didn't think in our wildest dreams - the way we had been going - that I was going to be in an Ulster club final and an All-Ireland semi-final," he says.

"But you sort of have it in the back of your head and you'd kind of like to be there. So yeah, the wedding was planned, hoping that we would be at this stage."

It's a hard to believe Cross weren't giving themselves a good chance of emerging from Ulster, given the club's record at this time of year.

And as it turned out Kernan spent most of January on a honeymoon that was littered with training sessions in various exotic locations as he looked to keep pace with the squad at home.

It might not have been the case as Kernan explains that their season turned on the introduction of a handful of the club's minor side that won the Ulster Championship.

"Just the way we had gone in Ulster the previous couple of years . . ." he offers when asked if he really thought there'd be no semi-final to consider in the wake of his wedding.

"Like, we hadn't won a game in Ulster for two or three years. We were maybe getting on a bit, a couple of the boys.

"And we had a different management team in and - yeah - I didn't think that we would be winning Ulster clubs again.

"We thought maybe the amount of Ulster clubs and All-Irelands we had, that was going to be our lot and we'd look back at that whenever we retired.

"But midway through the Armagh championship we brought in eight minors from our minor team, and they completely lifted the whole atmosphere around the camp.

"There was an enthusiasm about training, and it started to become fun again, and we were laughing and joking and the craic was back in the dressing-room.

"And the extra numbers helped. And then it helped that the boys were able to play football too.

"Then we went on afterwards. . . we won the Ulster club and they won the Ulster minor, so they've really been a huge lift to us and probably the main reason why we're in an All-Ireland semi-final."

In the Ulster final, Scotstown pushed them to extra-time. Cross went deep into their panel that day and it showed Kernan that the desire still burned bright in the squad.

"We found out certainly that we've got the hunger to keep playing at this level and keep wanting to achieve things at this level, but more so we found out we've got a squad," he says.

"In previous years we've come down and we've maybe won an All-Ireland with 17 or 18 players, whereas I think we used 10 subs that day with extra-time so we found out we've got a squad that can all play at that level and are capable of pushing on."

That hunger seems to be in endless supply. Kernan admits their 2009 defeat in the Armagh championship to Pearse Og haunted the club for months, especially as it came just after an All-Ireland final defeat to Kilmacud Crokes.

"Some of us would have a huge amount of regret in that we were going for a record at that point, and some of the people we idolised like John (McEntee), Oisin (McConville), Francie (Bellew) and Tony Mc(Entee), we felt they probably deserved to have that record of winning whatever consecutive championships it was. And for a year or so afterwards we were quite sore about it, but we've moved on," he says.

They've moved on and are within 60 minutes of yet another All-Ireland club final appearance.

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