GAA Football

Welcome to the country, city boy... Former Antrim goalkeeper Chris Kerr loving life in Armagh

Chris Kerr is joint-manager of Armagh Division 1B outfit Grange, St Colmcille's. Pic: Seamus Loughran.
Andy Watters

IT used to do his head: Running late for training and getting stuck behind a Glider or a couple of black taxis in no particular hurry.

Chris Kerr often had a tough time trying to navigate his way through the Andy Town Road traffic on the way to the St Gall’s club but the former Antrim goalkeeper has new issues now. It’s goodbye taxis; hello tractors, slurry spreaders, combine harvesters and bailers.

Welcome to the country, city boy.

Belfast native and former Antrim goalkeeper Kerr moved to Armagh city last March and a chance meeting with Brendan Rafferty, a player with St Colmcille’s, Grange whose father Peter and brother Ethan have both represented Armagh, led to him getting involved with the club.

Kerr is making his way back to fitness after back-to-back cruciate operations and when word got about that a former county player had moved to the locality, Grange manager Peter Nugent was quickly on the phone to invite him out to the rural outfit on the Ballygassoon Road midway between Armagh and Moy.

“I’ve been enjoying it – it’s a different environment with different voices and different people and it’s been going well,” said Kerr.

“I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the smell of silage and it’s a different sort of traffic from what I’m used to on the Andy Town Road. It’s gone from black taxis and Gliders to tractors and combine harvesters!

“One of the first training sessions, I pulled up in the carpark and one of the younger lads pulled up beside me in the tractor and started putting his gear on. I was just looking going: ‘What am I getting myself involved with here?!’ I wouldn’t even know where to start with a tractor.

“When we were allowed back on the pitch again. I got to the ground and the sun was splitting the trees – there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. I went out onto the pitch to set up and I noticed these wee white balls all over the place. I was on my own and I was thinking: ‘Was there hailstones or something out here?’ I was saying to the boys later on: ‘The weather is mad down here’ and they were looking at me as if I’d 10 heads and it turned out they had put fertiliser on the pitch! I hadn’t a clue.

“But it has been grand, they’ve been very welcoming. I think there was a bit of a language barrier at the start but they’ve become accustomed to the ‘Westie’ twang now.”

The Grange lads are obviously paying attention to that ‘Westie twang’ because, even without injured Ethan Rafferty and another county star Micheal McKenna who recently got married, they leapfrogged second placed Silverbridge last weekend with a 2-15 to 1-12 win in Division 1B.

“They’re motoring well,” said Kerr and he hopes to be doing the same before too much longer.

“I’m trying to get back playing myself,” he said

“I’ve still got aspirations of playing with St Gall’s but it (working with Nugent at the Grange) has worked well so far and hopefully, going forward, I can balance the two.”

His first injury setback came in July 2019 when he dived to block a shot in a club game against a Creggan and ruptured his cruciate. He had an operation the following September and got himself fit again.

“I was flying,” he says, but unfortunately his clean bill of health didn’t last long. He played a couple of matches and then slipped at training and it re-ruptured. Nightmare! He had the operation again in October.

A sprightly 35, he has been working with Helen McElroy from Focus Physio and reckons he’s not far away from getting the gloves back on for St Gall’s. He hopes to follow in the footsteps of fellow custodians Ronan Gallagher (Madden), Paul Hearty (Crossmaglen) and Mickey Conlan (Ballinderry) who all played into their 40s.

“I’m hopefully not too far away,” he said.

“I suppose, if you are going to do a cruciate, make sure you do it during a global pandemic! Before this year’s league started I had missed seven games with St Gall’s so I haven’t missed that much football. Obviously it’s not ideal doing it or getting a couple of screws put in your knee but if I had to do it, I picked a good time to do it.”

Who knows, this time next year he could be back in the Antrim panel. You can tell he’d love to be involved in Sunday’s Ulster quarter-final between his adopted county and his native county at the Athletic Grounds.

“Armagh are one of the teams you would want to draw. Logistically, it’s not that far away – 40-45 minutes’ drive for the players and the Athletic Grounds is a tight, narrow pitch so it ticks a lot of boxes,” he said.

"I think it will be a close game. Form can go out the window in Championship and over the last few years Antrim have been underdogs in Ulster and they’re overdue a result. One thing you can’t coach is momentum and they are going well at the moment, they’re showing a bit of resilience and digging in in the last few minutes of the games.

“It’s not surprise with the calibre of management they have and the personalities they are that they’re not throwing the towel in. They are hanging in there and grinding out results. It’s good to see, long may it continue and hopefully on the 4th of July they can get over the line and I might have to put a ‘For Sale’ sign up at the house!”

Kerr was county captain last time Antrim visited the Athletic Grounds. That was back in March 2017 when the counties were in Division Three and, had the Saffrons thrown caution to the wind and attacked in the second half that night, they could well have won the game. In the end, Armagh edged it by two points after CJ McGourty’s penalty was saved. Antrim were relegated on scoring difference and languished in Division Four until this year.

“It shows the small margins there are,” says Kerr.

“Armagh have kicked on and got to Division One from then and fair play to them, they’ve stuck at it. But Antrim are on the rise too.

“I played in Division Two, Three and Four with Antrim and I always felt that you need to win five or six games to get out of Division Four. In the other divisions you can get away with winning two and drawing one – you can survive. But in Division Four you need 10-12 points (to get promoted) and there are always a couple of brutal away trips so it is a tough division to get out of.

“People look at it and go: ‘Yeah, the basement…’ but the competitive nature of it is brutal because no-one wants to be labelled as a Division Four team all the time. There are a lot of pressure that comes with it that a lot of the teams that have never been in it wouldn’t realise.”



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