No quarter given as Crossmaglen prepare for Ulster clash with Monaghan champions Clontibret
AARON Kernan is relishing the chance of getting “one over” his good friend and former club and county team-mate John McEntee when Armagh champions Crossmaglen take on Clontibret at the Ulster quarter-final stage.
With bona fide Cross legend McEntee as their manager, Clontibret beat Scotstown 1-14 to 0-11 in the Monaghan championship final on Sunday. Around half-an-hour later, his native Rangers completed their win over Ballymacnab in the Orchard decider and that set up a novel clash at the Athletic Grounds on November 2.
“I texted John Mc last night to wish him well,” said Kernan after Cross had come from five points down to beat Ballymacnab by nine in a dramatic Orchard county decider.
“What I owe John McEntee, you couldn't put in a book. He is still a great clubman and what he does for the young people in our club you could never over-emphasise and then there's what he did for Cross as a player and a manager.
“The only person who will be annoyed over this and will find it really awkward is probably John and it will be tough on him because he is such a die-hard Cross man but whatever happens he'll always be a legend in Crossmaglen. At the same time, we'd definitely like to get one over on him!”
McEntee was already an All-Ireland winner with Cross when Kernan broke into the Rangers side and the long-serving wing-back says the 2002 All-Ireland winner was a role model in his early days.
“John was a mentor to me,” he said.
“I don't remember him saying a whole pile to me, I just copied him, I tried to copy him and I tried to copy Tony (McEntee) and Oisin (McConville) too because those boys were the standard-bearers within our club.
“I suppose you tried to mimic them as much as you possibly could. Even in terms of his advice on and off the field he has been top class and we look forward to seeing him in two weeks' time.”
Kernan won his 16th county title on Sunday and he struggled to recall a win as dramatic as the club's 45th success. A goal and a point from Ballymacnab's full-forward Jack Grugan had left Cross five points adrift 10 minutes into the second half and looking in grave danger of losing their first Armagh final since 1982.
But the south Armagh men turned the game on its head with a devastating spell of attacking football that saw them canter to a nine-point win.
“Off the top of my head, I don't remember another final like that,” said Cross captain Kernan after he had collected the Gerry Fegan Cup from county chairman Mickey Savage.
“When they got their second goal, you could hear the crowd and I'm sure a lot of neutrals thought: ‘Jeez, they're really under pressure here'.
“There was a roar for it (the goal) and then Jack Grugan got a punched point and you could hear the whole crowd really getting into it. But how we reacted is so pleasing, it was serious scoring to turn it around and it's testament to the work that goes in.
“Club football is now what county football used to be in terms of the preparation and it's worthwhile whenever you get days like today.”
Cross had played like a group of individuals throughout the first half and went in three points behind at the break. But when they began to move the ball quickly and work as a team, Ballymacnab had no answer to their mix of pace, skill and ferocious tackling.
“We kicked 1-9 without reply and that's massive scoring,” Kernan reflected.
“The boys have to have the hunger to get on the end of things and make things happen and the players really stepped up all across the field and started to win all the individual battles.
“We had been wiped out on kick-outs and break-balls but in the second half we turned the whole thing around and I'm so proud of the boys, I'm delighted for them.”
Now at the veteran stage, the experience of Kernan and the likes of his brother Tony, Kyle Carragher and Johnny Hanratty, has been vital to the progress of a group of talented youngsters that includes the O'Neill brothers, Rian and Oisin, Cian McConville, Colin O'Connor and Callum Cumiskey.
“It felt fairly relentless, the body language of boys, the hunger, the desire, the organising all across the field to make sure we had options and we were covering breaks… It was brilliant because they (the players) were taking ownership themselves,” he said.
“There's only so much a manager can do for you, it was players on the field who were making those calls and they were the right ones. That's the most pleasing thing from an experienced campaigner, seeing that happen.”