GAA Football

Tyrone's McKernan had sympathy for 14-man Armagh after Galway experience

Tyrone's Michael McKernan had another battle with Armagh on Saturday evening in Omagh. Pic Philip Walsh

HE may have stuck the boot out to deny them a late levelling goal at Omagh on Saturday evening but Michael McKernan had sympathy for opponents Armagh.

The Coalisland man had been through the experience of playing with a man short for much of the match in their All-Ireland SFC Group 2 opener away to Galway so he knew how tough it was for the Orchard County.

Their star forward Rian O'Neill was dismissed on the half hour after a clash with Tyrone defender Cormac Quinn but the visitors still pushed their hosts hard in the second half at Healy Park before losing by two points, 0-13 to 0-11.

Armagh might have equalised in the seventh minute of added time when Red Hands goalkeeper Niall Morgan slipped while in possession, allowing Oisin Conaty a sight of the unguarded nets.

However, McKernan sped across and booted the ball behind, for a '45' which Armagh worked short but only took a point, from Conaty.

McKernan was able to laugh about that incident afterwards, saying: "I dunno who it was – I just saw the ball spilling and thought, 'Jesus, I need to get back!' Lucky I got a toe on it just to break it away and, thankfully, stop them."

He had plenty of praise for Armagh's performance: "Look, you know what it's going to be like against Armagh. It's an Ulster derby and we know the quality they have, even with Rian [O'Neill] going off. We still knew there was going to be fight in them, they don't lie down.

"It's hard on the legs with 14 men. I didn't see the sending off, I don't know what happened.

"You only have to look at them in the Ulster Final and even at the end against Westmeath – they clawed it back and fought their way to the end. We knew hard it was going to be and thankfully we got a result out of it."

While the Orchard County had won their first round game, at home to Tailteann Cup-holders Westmeath, Tyrone succumbed away to Galway – but McKernan pointed out parallels between that game and the second round tie in Omagh:

"The Galway game, the sending off of Frank [Burns] and then the black card [for goalkeeper Niall Morgan] eliminated us. Whenever you go down to 14 men it's very hard, and then 13.

"We managed to stick at it and show a bit of character against Galway, even though we didn't get the win and carried it through to this match.

"At the end of day we still lost the game, they still got the two points. We didn't deserve to win it. Maybe the sending off stopped us a bit, the way we had to drop back and just limit them. But we took a great bit from it, there was plenty of learning too."

Tyrone's Michael McKernan and Cavan's Oisin Kiernan in action in 2021. Pic Philip Walsh.

 

When Armagh went down to 14, a Tyrone defensive re-jig, with McKernan's clubmate Padraig Hampsey moving onto Conor Turbitt, allowed the younger defender to get forward more:

"I was on Turbitt and then it left it that it was mostly me and Petey [Harte] ending up free. Just that bit of extra space on a warm day."

The win was especially welcome as Tyrone had lost four consecutive Championship matches: two last year, against Derry and Armagh, and then beaten by Monaghan and Galway this term.

Mention of criticism of the team elicited another chuckle from the Na Fianna clubman: "Look, we don't really listen to ones outside the group. It's whoever's in the group at the minute are the important ones.

"We know we probably put ourselves under a bit of pressure losing the last four Championship games. Everyone's entitled to their opinion – but we don't really listen to it. It's great to see the supporters out today."

He acknowledged that the losing streak had been talked about within the group, but suggested that the new football championship format eased the strain on the Red Hands:

"Yeah, look, every game you go out to win. Whenever you get on that kind of run…winning builds momentum and losing is not great.

"If it was other years… We had a long year last year because we were knocked out early. We were bad against Derry and then we were bad against Armagh. We're just trying to prove the doubters wrong from last year."

Tyrone will welcome the fortnight between matches now, before meeting Westmeath at a neutral venue on the weekend of June 17/18.

The Red Hands will be favoured to win, but McKernan insists it will be another tough encounter: "You look how good Westmeath were last year, winning the Tailteann Cup. You just had to see them against Armagh, the quality they have up front, and in defence they're very tight. We know we're going to be up against it again."