GAA Football

Where are they now? Joe Kernan looks back on a colourful career with Armagh

Joe Kernan led Armagh to their first All-Ireland title in 2002
Neil Loughran

Age: 63

Club: Crossmaglen

Position: Forward

When did you play for Armagh? 1970-1987. My last game was against Derry in the 1987 Ulster final, I came as a sub and we lost by a point.

What do you do nowadays?

Myself and my son Ross set up a software development company, RK Marketing, in 2012. Ross is the brains of the operation. We have an office in Dundalk and one in India, and we have nearly 80 staff there. The company has grown and we are dealing with some good blue chip companies, so it’s great.

Are you still involved in Gaelic football?

I’m in my third year as chairman of Crossmaglen, which is a nice easy job! I’m also the manager of the Irish International Rules team. We go to Australia in November, so I have the lovely job of going around the country and looking at players and sitting back and enjoying the matches.

What do you remember about your first game for Armagh?

It was a McKenna Cup match against Donegal in Armagh, I think we maybe lost by a point or so, but I remember just being delighted to be on the squad. Unfortunately Armagh were no world-beaters at the time but the love of the county jersey was something you had from childhood.

What’s your best memory from your playing days?

Winning the first Ulster title against Derry in 1977. They were going for three in-a-row, they hammered us the two previous years, so to beat them was unbelievable.

But one of the best games was when we played Cavan in the first round of the Ulster Championship that year in the Athletic Grounds. We were 10 points down at half-time and came back and won by a point – that really set the tone for the rest of the year [Armagh reached the All-Ireland final, losing to Dublin].

But I’m lucky to have lots of great memories thanks to Gaelic football, winning All-Ireland titles with my club and county as manager.

Watching that [2002] Armagh team, after losing to the eventual All-Ireland winners three years in-a-row, go ahead and do it was an unbelievable feeling. To watch the boys go up the steps was probably one of the greatest days.

You don’t realise how many people something like that affects, how many people all over the world a team can lift.

I’ll always remember myself and a friend, Gene Duffy, went into Daisy Hill hospital with the Sam Maguire after that and it was one of the most enjoyable two hours I’ve ever spent. People laying in bed with drips, seriously ill, but to see the joy we brought them was amazing.

Also, from a parents’ point of view, I’ve been lucky. Watching my sons Aaron and Stephen win the All-Ireland U21 title with Armagh in 2004, seeing Stephen lift the trophy when Cross won the 2012 All-Ireland Club.

Those are special days and special memories.

Joe Kernan was part of the Armagh team that reached the 1977 All-Ireland final, where the Orchard lost to Dublin

And the worst?

Losing to Dublin in 1977 was devastating. I learnt a lot from losing because it’s not a nice place to be and if you can carry hurt with you, it makes you stronger. The team did become stronger from it, and maybe that helped out in management too because you knew what players felt.

Losing an All-Ireland final any day is tough, but 2003 probably hurt more than me playing against Dublin because we weren’t really in with a shout bar five minutes in that game, whereas in 2003 you believed you had a chance all the way through.

Biggest character you played with?

Jimmy Smyth never smoked or drank but he was the heart and soul, very witty and always a cool head when others were nervous.

You couldn’t look past Benny Tierney though – when everyone else was bricking it driving down Jones’s Road, he had a laugh and a joke and raised the spirits.

But when he was in the dressing room, and the same goes for Jimmy, they knew it was time to change. That’s what set them apart.

Glad you played in your era rather than the modern day?

I was glad to play in any era. My father died in 1966 when I was 11 and my mum spent a lot of time out in Australia with my two sisters, and around 1970 I nearly went to Australia to join them.

Work wasn’t good at the time and they begged me to come out, but not going was the best decision I ever made. It was because of Gaelic football that I stayed and, sitting here today, I say thank God I did.

The enjoyment I’ve had playing and managing, then watching my own sons over the last 15 years. Money won’t pay you for that.

Any regrets?

You’d love to have won an All-Ireland as a player and more with Armagh as a manager, but we’re so lucky to have been involved with some of the greatest days of our lives. It still hurts when you think of the days you lost, but that’s life.

Joe Kernan was a free-scoring forward for Crossmaglen, and also managed the south Armagh club to glory

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