Aaron Kernan encouraged by Armagh's progress
By Cian O’Connell
Former Armagh footballer Aaron Kernan is adamant that the future is bright with a new and emerging team under Kieran McGeeney.
The Allianz Football League Division Three title provides a pre-Ulster Championship boost and Kernan feels that progress has been made recently.
Michael Quinlivan’s brilliance denied Armagh promotion 12 months ago, but they responded in impressive fashion to earn Division Two status for 2019.
“We are delighted as supporters now, particularly seeing them get promotion,” Kernan says. “Last year the League campaign was going very positively until a minute to go when Michael Quinlivan scored a goal.
“Long term it was a big blow because really to progress with that young group, who are trying to form their own identity you need to be playing up in the higher divisions against better opposition.
This year they were very professional from the outset given the amount of people they had lost from the starting team last year.
“That was very disappointing, but having said that they re-grouped very well and had a good run in the qualifiers. That regained a bit of enthusiasm and put a bit of confidence in the group. This year they were very professional from the outset given the amount of people they had lost from the starting team last year. It didn't really affect them, I think that was the most pleasing thing.
“A lot of new faces got plenty of football, they comfortably came out of their group which some people would have been fearful given the quality of player that had left from last year. They topped it off by beating Fermanagh in the League Final, a good high scoring, open game of football.”
Kernan expects a tight and tactical affair when Armagh travel to Brewster Park for next month’s Ulster Championship Quarter-Final against Fermanagh.
“The League is one box ticked for the year, the game in Enniskillen will be completely different, it isn't as big a pitch or as open as Croke Park is, I don't think Fermanagh can let Armagh express themselves the way they did so I would be expecting a much tighter, more tactical affair,” Kernan states.
“You really just want to win it, by one point or two points, I'd take that. It would be another positive step for this group, but realistically given Tyrone and Monaghan's League form an Ulster Championship I would think is beyond them.
“If we could get another run in the qualifiers, I think that would definitely set them up well for life in Division Two next year which is going to be hugely important for them.”
To develop further in order to strongly compete in Ulster Kernan believes that Armagh must continue to deliver in the League.
“Exactly, that is what my thinking is,” Kernan admits. “I'd like them to get a run in the qualifiers this year, but I would see the League next year as being our Championship because that is the second time we have come out of Division Three in the past three or four years.
“You don't want to be a yo-yo county because what sort of happens then is you get players dipping in and out of the panel all the time. You don't get any consistency, while the higher level you are playing at the better it is going to be, the more development you will see in your squad, the less turnover of players that you will have.
“Players just have to get used to that quality, that is what really brings you on. I would see next year as being massive for Armagh in Division Two.
“I think they need to be going all out from the very start, to make sure they stay in it and after another year of development if confidence grows within that group it entices more boys to get on board.
With the other three or four teams in a similar mindset to ourselves it should be a great Club Championship within Armagh again.
“Definitely I see if they want to have aspirations of getting back to provincial finals which we haven't done since '08 and winning them, the only place you are going to do that is by competing with the top teams on a regular basis in the League.”
It also should be an interesting Armagh SFC in 2018 following Maghery and Armagh Harps successes. Kernan’s Crossmaglen Rangers were the dominant force winning 20 of the previous 21 crowns.
“From a neutral perspective in Armagh I think a lot of people see it as a positive,” Kernan says. “We've had two new winners in the last two years, other clubs have got through to the County Final in recent years like Ballymacnab and Cullyhana.
“So it is really an open Championship. Four or five teams would have realistic ambitions of winning it. In terms of the competitive nature it can only be good for us in Crossmaglen after two disappointing years.
“We have become accustomed to winning titles, but I always feel the best team wins the Championship so we obviously haven't been good enough these past two years. We would be very much focused on trying to get back to a County Final or get back to being County champions.
“With the other three or four teams in a similar mindset to ourselves it should be a great Club Championship within Armagh again.”