GAA Football

Cross' boss Kernan happy to roll with knockout punches

Stephen Kernan in 2018 while managing Crossmaglen minors, who reached the Ulster club final. Picture by Seamus Loughran

CROSSMAGLEN Rangers manager Stephen Kernan says he's happy to go with Armagh county board's plans for a straight knockout club championship.

Clubs in the county will be pitted straight into the thick of it from July 31, with three league games penciled in for the first nine days before championship begins on the weekend of August 16.

Armagh has operated a round-robin system in recent years but will whittle their 16 teams down to two over the space of 14 days, before a league game ahead of the final on September 12/13.

“It's not ideal, but it's not ideal for everyone. I don't know how they could structure it differently,” said the former club and county player.

“From the point of view of trying to structure fixtures, and I wouldn't like the job of doing it, but it is where it is and we'll just have to get on with it.

“The teams that can manage injuries and their actual panel best initially are the ones that will probably end up being most successful.

“You're going from having no football to have three games in a week and then straight into championship, so any injuries there at all – and there will be niggles, that's a given – can have an impact on a club team even moreso than a county team.”

Kernan's biggest issue is that the GAA's roadmap only stipulates a return to contact training on July 20, with pitches remaining closed to group training until June 29.

“From a club manager's point of view, and a club player's point of view, going from having no football and right now the indications are that you can't have contact until July 20 – I'm sure that's going to have to change – our first league game, where we'll play three games in a week, is provisionally penciled in for July 31.

“Effectively, they're giving us 11 days contact. I'm sure that will change. It has to change.

“If the clubs do fulfil all the fixtures, it will lead to a decent amount of football for the club players.

“It's just how quickly it's been thrown on them in terms of how quickly they're allowed to train.

“I don't have a problem playing week on week, as a player I'd have craved that.

“In our new role, I'd favour it because it keeps everybody focused. The problem is it's coming so quickly after not being allowed to do anything.”

The reigning back-to-back holders and winners of 21 of the last 24 championships in the county moved in the winter to appoint former player Kernan as he stepped into senior management.

Few clubs have the bar of an Ulster Club title set as a barometer of success but after four years without one, this is their longest barren spell since between 1999 and 2004.

Defeat by Clontibret last year came as a surprise to many, but it was the way in which they were peeled apart by Gaoth Dobhair the previous year that led to questions over their insistence on a traditional style.

Kernan says he has no intention of trying to make Crossmaglen do anything other than what comes naturally to them.

“That is the attitude of all the people in Crossmaglen, that this is the right way to play and we'll continue to play that way.

“Of course there's an art to defending, as there is to attacking, but at the end of the day we play the game because of the entertainment it gives us.

“We've been very successful throughout different generations by playing this way.

“We don't have a cavalier attitude to defending – we still expect our players from 15 back to defend when we don't have the ball. We just don't defend en-masse and cover our entire defence.

“We want to play football the right way. We've been coached from underage to play it the right way and to trust each other to do our own jobs.

“Effectively, it's proven very successful for us. We have, of course, had one or two days where we maybe were caught.

“But we've had far more successful days than we haven't.”

If any club is equipped to use the boot and take advantage of the new attacking mark, which the GAA has confirmed will stay in place for this year's championships, you'd imagine it would be Cross.

Kernan is quite happy to go along with the changes and while he admits the mark wasn't something he saw as a solution, he's learned from its midfield prototype to give the idea a chance.

“I didn't see a real need for it to be introduced but then at the time, I didn't see a need for the mark at midfield to be introduced and now I'd see it as a valuable part of the game.

“I'm hoping the attacking mark is the same, and I hope it doesn't take away from the natural instinct of a forward – that if he does make a catch, he can go and take the defender on.

“You obviously still want to see the best forwards in the country winning their own ball and taking on the defender.

“If people are going to watch football, they want to see duels.

“They want to see the best forwards up against the best defenders. Hopefully it doesn't take away from that but only time will tell.”

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GAA Football