Aaron Kernan hails impact of Jarlath Og Burns and Rian O'Neill with Armagh
AARON Kernan has hailed Jarlath Óg Burns and Rian O’Neill for surpassing all expectations from their first season in inter-county football - but feels that they’re in for their biggest challenge in Castlebar.
The young duo have stepped straight into the breach and been arguably Armagh’s two best players so far in a summer that has seen them win a first Ulster Championship game in five years, narrowly miss out on the final and then end Monaghan’s year in Clones.
O’Neill has hit 2-19 already in the championship, while the power of Burns’ running from midfield has elevated him after just four games to the point where Lee Keegan is expected to be assigned a man-marking role on him this weekend.
“Even though we knew how good they were, it’s the quality and bravery they’ve shown, taking men on,” said former star Kernan.
“When you’re younger, you always feel like you can pass the pressure off on the older players, it’s more their responsibility to deal with things. You’re just going out to perform and enjoy yourself.
”There’s no doubt they will get key personnel assigned to them this weekend. It won’t be footballing ability that will come into question, it’s just seeing out difficult situations or more pressure.”
Jarlath Óg Burns’ fearlessness on the ball has terrified the opposition, with only Cavan’s Conor Brady able to shackle him so far in their replay win over the Orchard.
His directness has been a huge feature for Kieran McGeeney’s side, but that bravery has also seen him take a fair bit of physical punishment already this summer.
Kernan believes that as time goes on, he will start to see “clearer pictures in his own head of how he can get handier scores”, and that will help lessen his time spent in the firing line.
“I actually had the conversation with Dad [former Armagh boss Joe] going to the Ulster final on Sunday, that Jarly Óg probably just needs to mix his game up a slight bit now at this stage.
“Everyone nearly knows what to expect from him, that he’s going to go direct at you. Maybe now might be the time to start popping the odd pass off and looking to see where the space is to come off an inside forward, where it’s a simple opportunity.
“If he could mix his game up a bit to make himself a wee bit more unpredictable, maybe pop that first pass off and look to get to the edge of the ‘D’.
“Similar to the goal he got against [in the drawn game with] Cavan, where he wasn’t involved in the play other than coming off the shoulder of the last man. If he starts that run in the middle of the field and you’re trying to track him, you’re in bother.
“If he’d gone and demanded that pass on the 45’, he’s going to go into a lot of traffic and a lot of contact.
“How many times did you see Anthony Tohill scoring goals off that? He wouldn’t carry it through the middle throwing men out of the way, he was the one standing back waiting for the play to develop, looking maybe two passes ahead and seeing where he needed to be to be most dangerous.
“We have to remember too, he has four championship games under his belt. He’s literally just getting going. He’s going to just get better and better as his career develops.
“That’s one aspect that will help him because he’s so big and strong and direct, if you’re against him, you can’t but be physical with him because he’s just going to run over the top of you.
“He’s a huge man, he’s in great shape, and if he’s going to take you on, his opponent’s going to put his body on the line.
“That’s where you’ll have collisions and contact. I do see him developing himself, he’ll start seeing clearer pictures in his own head of how he can get handier scores without him doing all the work to get them himself.”