By Niall Gartland
MICHAEL McKernan was shortlisted for the young footballer of the year award in 2018, but it’s fair to say he exceeded those lofty standards with a string of sensational performances throughout this season’s championship campaign.
The Tyrone full-back line of McKernan, Padraig Hampsey and Ronan McNamee verged on impenetrable for long stretches of Saturday’s All-Ireland final victory of Mayo.
For the third game running, no goals were conceded by the supremely well-drilled Red Hand rearguard, so McKernan, who says he always believed he’d finish his career with a Celtic Cross in his back-pocket, can be proud as punch for his own personal contribution to this year’s success.
“We’re from Tyrone and this is the standard we set for ourselves. It’s what we aim for every year,” said the Coalisland Na Fianna clubman.
“I’ve been lucky I suppose. It was massively disappointing when we lost the 2018, it was a bad result, but we’ve been able to get back and redeem ourselves.”
“Over the last few years we’ve been questioned about our ability to beat the big teams, and thankfully this year we got over the line. A few things fell our way in the Kerry and Mayo games, but we aren’t complaining about that.”
McKernan says it’s been very much a case of evolution not revolution under joint-managers Feargal Logan and Dooher, and he says the backroom team also deserve to share in the glory as Tyrone ended their 13-year All-Ireland drought last Saturday afternoon.
“Small changes have been made. Mickey obviously laid the groundwork for the boys coming in. A lot of us knew Feargal and Brian through the U21 set-up, I played under them in 2016.
“They’re great men, but the backroom team have been fantastic as well, from Joey, Pete, Collie to the lads doing video work, everyone was just great.”
The sacrifices made by intercounty players are massive, and McKernan says that hard work was the foundation for what culminated in his club colleague Padraig Hampsey holding aloft the Sam Maguire after their five-point victory over Mayo.
“A lot of work goes on behind the scenes. Even in lockdown, we were individually training away, I was being sent out to train by myself by Pete [Donnelly].
“Obviously the Killarney defeat had a big impact on us.
“We got back to training, regrouped, said we’d give things a rattle and thank God everything’s turned out like this.”
He also backed his direct opponent on the day, talented young forward Ryan O’Donogue, to bounce back after missing a second-half penalty.
“He’s a very good player and he was very unlucky with the penalty. Things like that happen in football. He’s young enough still and I’m sure he’ll put it behind him.”