Football

"Thank you for the memories..." Down legend Kevin McKernan retires after 16 seasons in red and black

Kevin McKernan celebrates at the final whistle after Down beat Monaghan in the 2017 Ulster Championship. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile.
Kevin McKernan celebrates at the final whistle after Down beat Monaghan in the 2017 Ulster Championship. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile. Kevin McKernan celebrates at the final whistle after Down beat Monaghan in the 2017 Ulster Championship. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile.

IF ANY player can hang up his boots certain that he owes his county nothing, Kevin McKernan can.

More than 15 years after Ross Carr sent him on to replace Ronan Murtagh in a National League game against Armagh in Crossmaglen, the Down legend announced yesterday that he retired from the inter-county game after 16 seasons of shoulder-to-the-wheel toil.

Top of the list of highlights of the Burren clubman’s time in the red and black jersey must be his performance at centre half-back in the All-Ireland final of 2010 when Down came within a kick of the ball of winning the Sam Maguire.

There were also Ulster final appearances in 2012 and 2017 and National League successes. Away from the Down senior team, McKernan was an All-Ireland Minor champion in 2005, the Abbey CBS MacRory and Hogan Cup-winning captain in 2006, an Ulster U21 winner in 2008 and, in 2011, he represented Ireland in the International Rules series victory in Australia.

A versatile competitor, McKernan was used in a variety of pivotal roles including centre half-back, midfield and centre-half forward and was employed as a mobile sweeper in the latter stages of his career.

His final appearance for the county was on March 27 when he came on as a late substitute in the Division Two loss to Clare in Newry 15 years and two days after his debut in 2007 when he followed in the footsteps of his father Brendan who was an All-Ireland winner with Pete McGrath’s Mournemen at corner-back in 1992.

A proud Down footballer to his backbone, the former county captain paid tribute to his family for their support throughout his career and says he intends to continue to line-out for his club St Mary’s Burren and will hope to add to the championship titles in won in 2010, 2011 and 2018.

“There was little that could come close to the roar of the red and black supporters as Down were on the front foot in games, it was truly inspirational,” he said.

“We came close on All-Ireland final day in 2010 and it’s the run-in of games that led to that final that I was remember fondly. Thank you for your time, money and energy to support us.

“Another driving force for me was my family. They guided me, talked to me and afforded me the freedom as my senior journey unfolded. When I need you most you were always there mum, dad, Grainne, Brendy, my godfather Seamus and his wife Patricia. I want to say a special thank you. I hope I did you proud, you never know how much you are appreciated.

“My pride was brought to a whole new level in recent year when my two girls Sophie and Emily joined my family at games and cheered on from the sidelines. I hope this helps to show them they can achieve their dreams, be passionate about what they have and instil the sense of community in the GAA family.

“I am excited now to continue to put my shoulder to the wheel on the playing field for my beloved club Burren. What lies ahead excites me, whatever that may be.”

McKernan bows out with Down relegated to Division Three and already out of the second tier Tailteann Cup. His county has fallen on hard times but he believes better times are coming.

"It was the most amazing time of my life to be able to wear the Down jersey and I hope that every man, woman and child realises that there are brighter days ahead for our proud county,” he said.

“Do what you can for your club in the pursuit of Down playing on the biggest stage again. I know this will happen in the near future as the talent is in our county. Thank you for the memories.”