GAA Football

Aaron Kernan planning to follow in coaching footsteps once playing days are over

Crossmaglen stalwart Aaron Kernan with his sons after last year's county final defeat to Maghery. Picture by Seamus Loughran
Neil Loughran

DAD Joe helped transform Crossmaglen into an all-conquering force, brother Stephen is the man trying to bring back the Gerry Fagan Cup this Sunday, and Aaron Kernan could follow in their footsteps at some point down the line.

The former Armagh star remains a cornerstone of the Cross defence and, in his 21st campaign wearing black and amber at senior level, Kernan’s experience will be crucial if they are to see off Clann Eireann in Sunday’s Armagh SFC final.

However, once his playing days come to an end he intends to throw himself into coaching at the club.

“Whether it’s at senior level or not, I don’t know. I’m sure one day it’ll come,” he said when asked if he saw himself continuing the family tradition by managing Cross some day.

“But when I’m not playing I’ll absolutely get involved. I’ve got so much out of the club, obviously in terms of success but also friendships, and being part of something that gives great structure to your life.

“I’ve young kids of my own growing up, if that’s the path they want to go down, I’ll support them, and if I can help any of the other young ones coming through, then absolutely.

“I wouldn’t be one for just walking away and abandoning everything that I’ve had this past 20-odd years. I feel I have to give back, and I want to give back whenever the time is right.”

For now, though, Kernan’s full focus is on bringing his best every time he steps onto the field.

Having been hit by niggly injuries throughout last year’s campaign, Kernan has been solid as a rock throughout Crossmaglen’s run to yet another county final, where they hope to make up for the disappointment of last year’s defeat to Maghery.

He knows there is more road behind him than up ahead, but the 37-year-old – who called time on his Armagh career in 2014 - has no plans to hang up his boots any time soon.

“In my own mind, you’d be thinking ‘have I got something to give? Am I holding someone back? Am I still of benefit to the team?’

“Tomas O Se was playing in an All-Ireland club final at 40 a couple of years ago, Kieran Fitzgerald with Corofin… it’s the same thing. If you’re looking after yourself and you’re still enjoying it and still contributing to a squad, then age doesn’t mean it’s time to hang up the boots.

“You never want to overstay your welcome either, but I feel great. That hasn’t always been the case this last 18 months – the first lockdown was a disaster last year. It was so strict, we had no access to gyms or the pitch, so a lot of us were just doing cycling on the roads on our own, and it just wasn’t what was needed in terms of coming back to play a pitch sport – stop and start, twisting and turning.

“I didn’t play one league game last year because I was picking up niggly injuries. So we said for the year ahead, if I was going to go back again we can’t make the same mistakes.”

As a result, he has tweaked his approach – with Stephen Kernan helping manage his younger brother’s load to ensure Cross get the most from him.

“Management have been super,” says Kernan.

“I would say I’ve probably trained as hard and as often as I’ve ever done, but I’ve started training a bit smarter. Making sure that if I’m maybe tired, I’ve stepped out of sessions, or only done part sessions, where foolishly in the past I might have tried to push on.

“I had to appreciate I’m not as young as I once was, but it’s made this year more enjoyable. I got a bit of a dead leg the last day [against Silverbridge] but I’ve been playing full games.

“At this stage that’s all you really want – you’re there to play, you’re there to enjoy whatever you have left and contribute as much as you can.”

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