GAA "express train" will have to slow down after pandemic: Kevin McKernan
KEVIN McKernan envisages a very different GAA with different priorities and feels the current inter-county “express train” will have to slow down when the endless days of the Covid19 pandemic pass.
The Down footballer has used the lockdown period to re-assess his priorities – and thinks the Association will do likewise.
“I think society as a whole is going to have to re-assess things,” said McKernan.
“It has probably been a blessing in disguise for the GAA insofar as the GAA and, in particular the inter-county scene, was going like an express train. I think it has made everyone re-assess things.
“The fact players’ time is now their own again, it’s very rewarding to do some things now that you weren’t able to do because of inter-county commitments. I think it will make people re-assess commitment levels; were we doing something that was unsustainable? That applies to society as well.”
The Burren man added: “I think a lot of people have realised that there are more important things than football and more people are looking at ways to feed back into the local communities and ensuring that the club scene gets priority as well.”
With the GAA has ruled out a return to inter-county games before October, it was still holding out the hope of playing club and county competitions before the end of 2020.
“If it’s looking like club first I think it’s going to be a massive thing if that is the case because it’ll inject so much enthusiasm into the roots of the game and give the club game a bit of life before going back to county duty,” said McKernan.
The 32-year-old has been a mainstay of Down teams for over a decade and while his inter-county commitments have steadily climbed during that period, he is trying to take the positives out of the pandemic by using the time to let his body rest.
“I’ve always enjoyed my football but over time I definitely had to re-adjust my expectations of training, and I had to try and incorporate my training around not being out of the house as much.
“With Eamonn Burns, God rest him, and also Paddy [Tally] they were very accommodating with my family circumstances and work-life.
“I think this is a huge thing going forward. I was reading what Lenny Harbinson had to say in that ‘one size doesn’t fit all’ and giving respect to the different circumstances of people within squads.
“To see Mick McCann back playing for Antrim at 34 and Paddy Cunningham as well, longevity is possible. And now that we don’t have football at the minute, it might make people think how do we make it more appealing for guys to play the game for a longer time rather than retiring at 28 or 29-years-old and feeling burnt out.”
So much was riding on Down’s season until play was suspended in early March.
The Mournemen were well placed to gain promotion out of Division Three along with leaders Cork after five rounds of games, which would qualify them for the inaugural top Championship tier.
“Nobody could have envisaged what lay ahead,” said McKernan. “By the middle of February we had a couple of wins under our belts and we were in a very positive place.
“Then things were slowing down and the lockdown was imminent; it was very frustrating when we were so close to promotion. That was a major goal for this team after missing out so narrowly last season.
“In the grand scheme of things, it’s not important but you look at some of the Ulster teams – Antrim are close to promotion out of Division Four, Down and Derry are in the hunt in Division Three and Armagh are on the cusp of promotion.
“From our own perspective promotion was a big target this year and we were looking forward to finishing the League very positively and get the promotion that we desired.”
With opinion going to be inevitably divided no matter when team sports resume, McKernan insists that people’s health is non-negotiable.
“Getting kids back playing and the social interactions and benefits from sport are obviously huge.
“But if you were working in an intensive care unit and feeling the backlash of another possible spike… If this does go back and things are shut down again, schools close again, the detrimental effects of that is going to have are going to be even greater. “I’m no expert. Everyone would love sport to re-open and people miss the GAA but I think it has to be a very carefully thought-out process.
“It would be great to have something up and running for kids but maybe groups of 10 or 15 with social distancing. It’s going to be very hard but the hope is there will be a GAA season at club and inter-county level. It just gives people hope and a goal but this thing is so fast-paced that there could be more information over the next couple of weeks.”
During lockdown McKernan and several sports people have been fundraising for the local hospice, with McKernan’s contribution reaching over £5,500 for Southern Area Hospice services after agreeing to ‘Go Hairless for the Hospice’, the brainchild of local businessman Gary Boyd of Boyd’s Menswear.
And when he hasn’t been taking shears to his hair, he’s been trying to keep his Primary Four schoolchildren of St Ronan’s, Newry and the schoolchildren’s parents motivated during lockdown.
“I’m touching base with my class as best I can. You’re trying to teach and motivate from your own home. Everyone is doing as much as they can and as best they can. And I appreciate how difficult it is for parents because it’s very difficult to replicate and keep the concentration of school-life for a child who is sitting in their home with so many distractions. It’s not normal circumstances but everyone is doing what they can and the best they can.”