GAA Football

Kevin McKernan wants Down players to develop winning habit after ending long wait for win

Midfielder Peter Turley was one of several experienced men brought back into the Down starting 15 for Saturday night's Division Two clash with Meath
Neil Loughran

DOWN star Kevin McKernan has called on his team-mates to develop a winning habit after finally ending the county's 22-month wait for a League victory on Saturday night.

The Mournemen had to survive some nervy moments towards the end of their two point win over Meath, and there was a huge sense of relief around Pairc Esler and among the players and management.

McKernan has been part of the Down panel long enough to know that one swallow doesn't make a summer and, with a trip to Owenbeg to face Ulster rivals Derry coming up on Sunday, building momentum is key.

“A lot of boys came into the panel last year, that's their first win tonight so hopefully they get used to it,” said the Burren ace.

“It's positive in there [the dressing room] now but straight away we're looking at the amount of wides we had, balls into the ‘keeper's hands and goal chances. It could have been a whole lot more comfortable.

“I'd say there would be very few counties in the country would have the turnover of players we've had in the past two or three years and when you're throwing a lad into Division One football last year, it's sink or swim stuff.

“It can be hard to turn the wheel the other way but you just have to grind it out. Every week we were just trying to pick it up and pick it up, it was pretty demoralising.

“But tonight we've shaken it off our back and hopefully we can move on from here.”

After suffering back-to-back defeats against Fermanagh and Clare, leaving the threat of a second consecutive relegation looming large, there was huge pressure on Down and boss Eamonn Burns's shoulders going into Saturday's Division Two clash.

Joe Murphy's goal after 92 seconds gave the Mournemen a lead they would never relinquish, with the experience of McKernan and the explosive pace of Caolan Mooney key as the Royals were rumbled.

McKernan was able to temporarily park his county commitments as he helped St Mary's College to an unlikely Sigerson Cup success on February 18, though he opted out of the Ranch celebrations to focus on a huge game for Down.

“I didn't go out and celebrate with the boys last week,” added McKernan.

“When you're waiting a year-and-a-half for a win and you've a home game like that, it needed to be focused on, so it was job done tonight.”

The scenes after beating Meath were a world away from those at Cusack Park just a fortnight earlier, when Down were roundly criticised for a poor showing against Clare.

McKernan admits the bus journey home from the Banner county was “tough stuff” and says it was hard for players to completely steer clear of negative comment.

He said: “Listen, I suppose when boys are trying to get on with their daily lives - it could be building sites, it could be offices - the topic of conversation's always GAA, it's just the nature of the game.

“It's hard to avoid it in this day and age but no-one hurts more than the players and I suppose social media gives a lot of people the opportunity to voice their opinion.

“Everyone's entitled to it but it gets to the point where you're just saying to yourself ‘can you be a bit more positive and try and add to the whole thing in terms of what you can do for the county?'

“It doesn't help, and maybe a wee bit of encouragement over the next couple of weeks, maybe another win next week would set the whole thing on a different avenue.”

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