Joe: 'Hair stood on my head'
Joe Kernan experienced a very different sensation watching his native county last weekend.
"I'd say it's the first time in a long time that the hair stood on the back of my head in Croke Park, watching Armagh," admitted the 2002 All-Ireland winning manager. "It kept me at the edge of my seat. It was end-to-end stuff. I thoroughly enjoyed it."
Armagh's reward for their thrilling qualifier triumph over Kildare is a quarter-final date with the old enemy, Tyrone, at HQ tomorrow (4pm). Welcome to the Big Boys' Club.
But Kernan is cautiously optimistic. "You fancy what they've done over the last month has changed everybody's idea on Armagh," he told The Herald.
"The team that Down beat in the first round of the championship don't play the same now, they're playing with confidence and a composure they hadn't got at the start.
"And naturally, because it's Tyrone, everybody's really looking forward to it. We were always on the edge of our seats for those five or six years that Armagh and Tyrone met."
Asked what has made the difference for Armagh, Kernan cited a switch from the defensive tactics of recent seasons "that probably didn't suit".
He had spied signs of a more expansive game plan in the pre-season Ó Fiaich Cup, but then "in the league we seemed to go back into our way of defending, and waiting for the games to finish rather than finishing them out. But the last three games, Armagh have finished strong ... that's the difference."
While accepting Tyrone's rightful favouritism, Kernan points out that they've beaten a Donegal team that may need a total "revamp" after a gruelling seven years and a Down team that "weren't at the races" in the Ulster final.
"I think it's going to be very close. This will be the first big test Tyrone have had," he argued.