Joe Kernan excited about Armagh's potential
By Cian O'Connell
Joe Kernan acknowledges that these are promising times for Armagh.
On Friday evening Kernan was inducted into the Hall of Fame at the Gaelic Writers' Association annual awards sponsored by Sky Sports.
Kernan, who famously guided Armagh to All Ireland glory in 2002, believes Kieran McGeeney's outfit are making encouraging progress.
"I think we are in a good place," Kernan says. "There is a lot of hope for next year with the new players coming in. The likes of the O’Neill’s and Jarlath Óg (Burns) coming in certainly helped and there’s a better balance in the team.
"We have youth and scoring forwards that a lot of teams would love to have. But it’s a learning process, and this year in particular I think we moved on and played better football, which I think helped the thing.
"We were more direct and our kicking game was very good, and we have men that can win it. So look, we were very unlucky this year and there are positives. The league next year will be a big test of where we are."
With the new Championship format added significance is attached to every Allianz Division Two and Three tussle. "Well I’m glad we are in Division Two and not in Division Three trying to get out of it, because that would be even harder," Kernan admits.
Does Kernan believe that reaching an Ulster Final is a realistic target for Armagh? "Well it goes in stages and no team dominates forever," Kernan replies.
"In my time, between the two Brians and me and Peter we won seven Ulster titles in 10 years, which is an unbelievable return.
"Hopefully next year we can get to an Ulster final, and if you get there you never know what can happen on the day. Teams will improve the further they go, and that’s what you’d be hoping for.
"The League will be good preparation, staying in Division Two will be very important and if they get promotion it’s a bonus.
"They have an awkward one against Derry, so to get over that you are up and running and one step away from an Ulster final so who knows then?
"Teams grow in confidence the further they go, and you seen that against Mayo in how well we played. "You knew there was more in us if it kept going, so let’s be upbeat, let’s be positive. First we’ve got to stay in Division Two and it’s up to the players to rise to the occasion."
On the club front Crossmaglen Rangers have returned to prominence winning two Armagh Championships in a row. "Yeah the back to back has been good, we had two really good finals against Ballymacnab and our backs were really up to it," Kernan states.
"Typical Cross, as Aaron said afterwards the young boys really stood up and they fought for this one themselves. That’s positive, but can we improve and do we need to improve? Of course we do.
"John Mac knows that better than anybody, but if we perform, we’ll put it up to anyone but without a shadow of a doubt there’s room for improvement."
It is now 17 years since Armagh collected the Sam Maguire on a memorable September afternoon at Croke Park. Should Armagh have claimed further silverware?
"Well you never forget the day, but sometimes you don’t really realise just how long ago it was," Kernan acknowledges.
"Time moves on, of course you would have loved to have won another one. But a wise man once told me – a young John McEntee that we should be thankful for what we had and not what we wanted.
"Around this area (Crossmaglen) we haven’t done too badly – six All-Ireland titles, 11 Ulster club titles. So in this area in the last 20 years the people of Armagh have had great value. Seven Ulster titles with Armagh and an All-Ireland and beaten in a final.
"If you had said 25 years ago that was all going to happen, you wouldn’t believe it and you’d laugh.
"So I think we should be thankful for what we have and look forward to the next group of players coming through, and hopefully they can pick up their own All-Ireland in the next 10 or 12 years."