Aaron Kernan: Armagh have to go out and impose themselves on Down in Ulster semi showdown

Ex-Orchard ace impressed by performance from McGeeney’s men in dismissing Fermanagh

Former Armagh and Crossmaglen player Aaron Kernan is supporting Darkness Into Light, Pieta’s annual fundraising event which raises vital funds for local mental health partner charities
Former Armagh and Crossmaglen player Aaron Kernan is supporting Darkness Into Light, Pieta’s annual fundraising event which raises vital funds for local mental health partner charities

ARMAGH must go out and impose themselves on Down in Saturday’s Ulster semi-final showdown in Clones, according to former Orchard ace Aaron Kernan.

Kieran McGeeney’s men impressed when picking Fermanagh apart during the first half of their last eight clash, with goals from Conor Turbitt, Jarly Og Burns and Stefan Campbell leaving giving them a handsome lead at the break.

But it was the aggressive manner in which they went about their business that most impressed Kernan, as Armagh pressed high and hemmed the Ernemen in.

Down represent a different kind of challenge but, after underwhelming performances against Westmeath and Antrim in the past month, it is with good reason that the Division One-bound Orchard will pull up at St Tiernach’s Park as heavy favourites.

Indeed, when the neighbours met at the same stage 12 months ago, Armagh ran in four goals as the Mourne County challenge ran out of steam.

“I was delighted with the way Armagh went after Fermanagh in the first half,” said Kernan.

“There were times in the past number of years where we’ve been going into games and you genuinely feel Armagh are just the better team, with better players than the opposition, but just over-think situations, maybe become a wee bit cautious.

“But against Fermanagh they did exactly what I would expect from a top eight team – they went after them, played aggressive, front-foot football, ruthless with our opportunities and put the game to bed in the first half.

Fermanagh's Shane McGullion puts pressure on Armagh's Oisin Conaty during Sunday's Ulster Championship clash at Brewster Park. Pic Philip Walsh
Armagh proved far too strong for Fermanagh in their Ulster quarter-final clash earlier this month. Pic Philip Walsh

“The more you do that, the more you’ll trust yourself to do it when the stakes are higher. It was a very positive start and something you’d love to see them taking into the Down game.”

Conor Laverty’s side must reach the Ulster final if they are to compete in the All-Ireland Championship, otherwise another Tailteann Cup campaign awaits, having come up short against Meath in last year’s final.

And while defeat to Westmeath in the Division Three final, and that stuttering performance against an injury-hit Antrim, isn’t ideal preparation for a game of this magnitude, the Mournemen did already achieve their main objective by sealing promotion to Division Two.

However, Kernan believes the Orchard now have to be ruthless.

After the disappointment of last year’s devastating Ulster final loss to Derry on penalties, before their All-Ireland quarter-final exit to Monaghan via the same means, the Crossmaglen man admits he was concerned about what impact those defeats might have.

Instead, though, Armagh have come back bigger and better – though the nature of their Division Two final defeat to Donegal caused some alarm.

“If you want to get to another Ulster final, don’t get there by not losing. Get there by going out and winning, and build on what you did against Fermanagh. Try and take it to another level, and go after it again.

“I was worried after last year, I thought it would be so deflating for players and management, but they’re a better team this year. They’re playing better football, they’ve built a stronger squad...

“The League final could be the best lesson they get if they sat down after and were honest with each other after.... something happened in a big game where there was something at stake where they went away from what they were supposed to be doing.

“I’d far rather learn that lesson in a League final and not pick up silverware, so that it might stand to you if you’re lucky enough to get to another Ulster final.

“I thought at times last year, particularly when the pressure came on, we played a similar style of football all the time, whereas this year more people are staying ahead of the ball, we’ve developed much more of a kicking game, still racking up good scores and - with the exception of the Cork game, which was a bit of a non-event - they have been solid defensively.

“They’ve found a really good balance this year that suits the type of player we have in terms of skill level, but also the physicality and fitness they have obviously built up over the 10 years under Kieran.”

And that is also reflected in the depth of the squad at McGeeney’s disposal this year.

The likes of Peter McGrane and Oisin Conaty have become established starters, while the likes of Kernan’s Crossmaglen club-mate Oisin O’Neill – and, until recent weeks, younger brother Rian – have had to bide their time on bench as Armagh steadily improved on the way to sealing their sport in Division One for 2025.

“Oisin was playing well and putting up good scores in the McKenna Cup, but we’re not in-house at training.

“You can see the competition for places in the squad that has been built – Jason Duffy has been a shoo-in the past few years, had a brilliant campaign with Cullyhanna, but hasn’t been able to force his way back in so far.

“Aidan Nugent’s the same, it has taken Rian until the last few games, so the more you’re keeping those big names out, it shows the level of competition going on and the need to get out and impress.

“The way it’s going to go the next while, with the Ulster Championship then into the All-Ireland, injuries will happen, knocks will be picked up, and it’s brilliant then that you’ll have those options there and guys who can seamlessly slip straight in.”


EVEN before being asked to become an ambassador for Darkness into Light, Aaron Kernan has seen first hand the power those early morning gatherings possess.

This year’s Darkness Into Light - Pieta’s annual fundraising event which raises vital funds for local mental health partner charities and is supported by Electric Ireland - will take place as the sun rises on Saturday, May 11, with thousands of participants taking part in 13 official walks across the north.

In the past decade, Darkness Into Light has raised over £1million for partner charities and Pieta to help with issues of suicide, self-harm, and mental health. And, having touched almost every community, Kernan didn’t hesitate in lending when asked to lend his support.

“It’s something I think is so worthwhile,” he said.

“Even before getting involved to support it now, I’ve done the walks in Cross, and it is very powerful because you have families there who are bereaved and who have suffered through suicide.

“In life nowadays, everyone’s so busy, you can sometimes forget about the struggles other people are going through. It gives you a really good perspective about looking after not just yourself, but those in the community around you.

“You’d be honoured and delighted to be involved in something like this.”

The 10 partner charities across the north provide easily accessible, free of charge services which are available online, by phone or in person. To sign up for any of the May 11 walks visit