Kevin McKernan was a stalwart of Down football, representing the Mourne County for over a decade and a half and enduring tough times during that period, but enjoying great times too.

The pinnacle of his career was reaching the All-Ireland Final in 2010, where they lost to Cork by the smallest margin, but the excitement, build-up and buzz will always stay with him.

The Mourne County are not reaching those heights lately, but they are certainly on an upward trajectory under Conor Laverty and having reached their second Tailteann Cup Final in a row, the buzz is back.

“We had a breakfast morning last Friday which 400 people attended and it reminded me of the All-Ireland Final breakfast morning,” McKernan said at the AIB media launch ahead of the Tailteann Cup Final.

“It’s just a great opportunity to gather funds, an opportunity to sell the county as they approach a big Final — you can sell the dream, promote the big day and this win in the Tailteann Cup for either Down or Laois has serious repercussions.

“For either side, if they win, then it’s a case of seeing whether they develop to the next step or they get stale and struggle.

“Laois are in bonus territory, I have heard that from numerous Laois people, I even heard Colm Parkinson say that if Laois were even competitive and pushed Down hard, then they would be happy and content.

“For Down people, we need to go and win this. There is no hiding that fact from Laois or Down. Down were beaten Finalists last year, they are in a better place to win this game and need to do it.

“This brings great excitement for Laois to try and stop Down doing that, while Down can be excited about being on this upward curve they are currently on.

“They can look at teams like Armagh and Galway, who have been competitive against the very best, but Sligo pinned Galway in Connacht, while Down pushed Armagh right to the last four minutes of stoppage time.”

McKernan retired in 2022, just before Laverty took charge, but he did have the benefit of playing alongside him in the famous red and black jersey, and fully backs him to bring good times back.

“Conor will do absolutely anything in his power to win, and he will do everything to better this team. With his backroom team, he has given Down the tools they need to compete. Physically, tactically, how they approach games, he’ll look at all of that and think, ‘How can I make Down the best versions of themselves?’

“He worked with the U20 teams and is bringing them through, and that will leave Down in an even better place.”