"Knockout football is what you want" says Crossmaglen manager Stephen Kernan ahead of Championship first round
IT’S a knockout in Armagh and that’s exactly the way it should be, says Crossmaglen Rangers manager Stephen Kernan whose side run the gauntlet this evening when they take on Madden Raparees in the first round of the senior football championship.
Along with Tyrone and Fermanagh, the Orchard County championship is one of three senior championships in Ulster that operates a straight knockout format - the other counties have a group stage or a backdoor system in place and Kernan says the Armagh fixture model is working well at all levels.
“I’d be 100 per cent in favour of the knockout championship,” said Kernan, an Armagh, Ulster and All-Ireland championship winner with Crossmaglen during his playing days
“Particularly with the leagues being run so well in Armagh, the players are getting plenty of football so I don’t think that anyone playing club football is being neglected.
“In Cross we would be very happy with the structures that are there. Knockout football is what you want, it’s what we were raised on and ultimately nobody can go into this weekend’s games taking anything lightly because the competitiveness is so great.”
The platform for the success of the knockout championship is provided by the league format in which all three divisions are split in two after one completed round of fixtures meaning that the majority of teams have something to play for – relegation or promotion and sometimes both – right up until the latter stages of the competition.
Kernan says the intensity in the league is ideal preparation for the senior championship which includes eight first round games over this weekend.
“In the past six or seven years the league structures in Armagh have been revamped and each league has been extremely competitive,” he explained.
“That has left teams playing meaningful games right up to the end of the league because you could either win or be relegated in a matter of two wins or two defeats which leaves everybody going into the championship with good form and plenty of football behind them.
“There’s great competitiveness in the Armagh championship and there are a number of teams who would be in the ‘contenders’ bracket now who won’t be there on Monday morning if they take their eye off the ball.”
That includes his own team of course and Cross have already been tested in this championship. They met Clan na Gael in the preliminary round and had to dig in to see off the Lurgan side by two points in the end and must come through a series of do-or-die battles if they are to reclaim the Gerry Fegan Cup they lost last year to Maghery Sean McDermott’s.
Crossmaglen were the dominant force in Armagh for over two decades and won every county championship from 1996 to 2015 with the exception of the 2009 competition which was won by Pearse Og. In addition the men in black and amber won 11 Ulster titles and six All-Ireland crowns. James Morgan and Aaron and Tony Kernan are the only survivors from the last of those wins which came against Westmeath’s Garrycastle, in 2012.