KEVIN McKernan says it has never crossed his mind to walk away from Down and is intent on restoring some pride to the famous red and black jersey ahead of their Tailteann Cup clash with Cavan later this month.
The Burren man was an unused substitute in the Mourne County’s Ulster Championship exit to Monaghan at the end of last month but will be available for selection for the trip to Breffni Park on May 28 in the hope of extending their season.
Down have been ravaged by off-field controversy and a host of player exits, but while openly acknowledging these difficulties, McKernan struck an upbeat note.
“I play for Down as if I’m playing for my club,” he said. “I’m a Down man, I’m a Burren man. If you are a club player in Down, you are also a Down man.
“There are obvious reasons for people walking away – family and work commitments, and that’s fine - and then there’s just an easier option.
“But this year has been difficult. James was appointed very late. He couldn’t have done any more for his county across a 30-year period between playing and managing.
“All I hope is that James gets buy-in from every man who is playing for Down football next year. We’ll do what we can this season but I want to play for Down and I appreciate the opportunity that my club has given me to go and do that.”
An All-Ireland winner at school, minor and university level, the 34-year-old says it was only three years ago they were pushing Mayo all the way in an All-Ireland Qualifier and fully believes the county’s fortunes can turn as quickly again.
“We’re at a bit of a low ebb at the minute but that can happen for a few seasons,” said the 34-year-old schoolteacher.
“In 2008, I came into the Down panel that beat Tyrone in the Ulster Championship and Tyrone went on and won an All-Ireland.
“In 2009, we were beaten by Wicklow in Aughrim and in 2010 we reached an All-Ireland final. So this thing ebbs and flows. Unfortunately, we find ourselves in a position of low confidence.”
While critical of the poor marketing and lack of clarity around the format of the inaugural Tailteann Cup, McKernan stressed that the group of players travelling to Breffni Park in eight days’ time will not be distracted from trying to show the GAA public the better side of Down football.
“Is the Tailteann Cup getting the respect from the GAA? The first bit of commentary I heard was from Mickey Harte when he said it was a beaten docket before it started. There are too many unanswered questions. What is in it for the Tailteann Cup teams? Yes, there’s an extra game but we were told we were going to get multiple games.
“Why not start the Tailteann Cup ASAP in groups of three and the top team qualifies and goes forward and the winners get back into the All-Ireland? Then you would have something that’s appealing.
“But, regardless, we have a group of players that are very committed to Down football and will go to Cavan and put a performance in. That’s our focus now.
“We all want to do well. Things have been tough this year from the National League to the Championship. It’s been tough on the players, tough on the management. All we can do is go there and show that there are really talented footballers in Down.”