GAA Football

Media criticism was hard to take says Kevin McKernan as mood lifts in the Down camp

Up for the match: Down's players take the pitch for their NFL match with Derry at Celtic Park on Sunday. Picture Margaret McLaughlin
Andy Watters

DOWN manager Eamonn Burns spoke to the media on Sunday and the banter flowed in the dressingroom behind him.

The Mourne county's players were in good form and with good reason after a commanding 1-15 to 1-7 win over Derry at Celtic Park that completed back-to-back victories in Division Two.

Kevin McKernan explained that the laughter and craic was “nothing about winning, it was pure slagging”, but whatever its cause, it gave the impression of a group of players enjoying life after almost two years in the doldrums.

In his 10 years at inter-county level, McKernan has been through thick and thin but the Burren clubman admits he found some of the negative coverage Down have endured in the media recently hard to take.

“We went through a run of games previous to Meath and there was a lot of harsh assessment in terms of media,” he said.

“People were looking to create a massive story out of absolutely nothing and these lads (his team-mates) have lives to lead outside of that.

“We read it, or we don’t directly read it but we listen to it from people who have read it, and we carry that burden into training and into our lives.

“To get two wins like that and hear lads with a wee bit of a positive edge is a nice feeling. That’s what you play football for, to get results and there was no-one hurting more than the boys over the past 18 months.”

McKernan, a vital cog in St Mary’s Sigerson Cup triumph recently, added: “There was no photocopies of articles going up, but you harness that.

“You lift the bag every night to go out to training and you think: ‘What is in this for me?’

“If it’s giving someone an opportunity to put men down through a newspaper or on social media it’s hard to avoid it and it’s harsh stuff that people are putting out there.

“But we go to play football for Down. It’s a very privileged thing and a very enjoyable thing and when you get a few results it’s made all the easier. I’m just relieved for some of the younger lads to start winning games for Down.

“I came into a team that was struggling 10 years ago to get out of Division Three and we want to stay in Division Two and develop this team from there.”

McKernan looks well suited to the sweeper role he adopted yesterday. He dictated the pace of the game, particularly in the second half, and his passing was often excellent.

“We’ve talked about it for a year that we knew it (Sunday’s performance) was in us,” he said after the eight-point win.

“A lot of things need to go your way and in a couple of the defeats last year there was a kick of the ball in it – Mayo in Mayo and Monaghan in Monaghan.

“People get lost in the fact that we had so many defeats. Yes we had and it’s hard to question, but when you go to training and you see the talent we have we’re only going to get stronger.

“With Jerome Johnston coming on, Paul Devlin coming on, Donal O’Hare not even there… The options are there.

“Niall Donnelly came on today and did a job for us so the options are strengthening and games like that – and wins – are going to build confidence.”

Down manager Eamonn Burns said his side would take it "one step at a time" after his improving side beat Derry last Sunday

 

Kildare, who sit top of Division Two with three wins out of four, are next for the Mournemen and a win for Down could see them climb to the top of the table.

“It was such a relief to get the win against Meath but like any county team you have to assess what could have been done better,” said McKernan.

“Straight away we looked at 12-13 wides, four or five shots into the ’keeper’s arms, missed goal chances… We were calculating another eight or nine scores and then defensively we conceded a few sloppy scores.

“Again there today, we went to sleep again and conceded 1-2 when the game was nearly over in the first half. It’s a massive step against Kildare, but Derry put it up to them last week.”

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