By Brendan McTaggart
Antrim football manager Lenny Herbinson’s first act for the 2019 season isn’t one many would have seen coming. The Saffron number one shirt is up for grabs with St Galls netminder Chris Kerr calling time on his inter-county career over the weekend. The popular Antrim ‘keeper took to social media to announce the end of his tenure as Antrim’s number one proclaiming:
“All good things come to an end! A spring chicken in 2007 to an oul lad in 2018. The pleasure was all mine @AontroimGAA Until next time… Up the saffrons.”
At the age of 32 years young, Kerrso’s tweet came straight out of left field but when I spoke with him about his announcement, he gave me his reasons: “I’m a proud person so I always wanted to go away on my terms. While I was still felt like I was on top of my game. I didn’t want to be playing second fiddle to some young pup and I feel now is the right time to step down and give someone else the chance.” The St Galls man continued: “The playing part was always easy and always enjoyable but it (retirement) was something that was going through my head for the most of last year if I’m honest.
“It was the training and recovery after. Last year we trained on a Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. I was waking up for work the next day and it felt like I was hit with a truck.
“The long hours as well. You were no sooner in from work till you were out for training. The long journeys for matches as well. Travelling to the likes of Limerick and that. Leaving at 1pm on a Saturday and not being home to 11 or 12 o’clock the next night. As the years have went on, that’s got harder to deal with. I just think it’s the right time to concentrate on my club and give the rest of my years to St Galls.”
Kerr has held the number one shirt for the better part of 11 years. Coming into the squad while still part of the U21 set-up in 2007, the then Antrim manager Jody Gormley brought him in to act as an understudy to Sean McGreavy and John Finnucane who were hit with injuries at the time but was part of the match day panel for the Championship match against Derry the same year. After attending University in Preston for two years, Kerr became synonymous with the Antrim number one shirt from 2010. After a friendly in Glenullin, Liam ‘Baker’ Bradley brought Kerr into the squad once he had finished with his club commitments that year – the small matter of the All-Ireland club championship with St Galls. Kerr continued: “Off course I’ll miss it (playing for Antrim). Especially around championship time. That feeling and buzz you get walking around the pitch behind the band with your team mates but for me, now’s the right time to step down and give my remaining years to St Galls.
“I’ve loved my time in an Antrim shirt.
“The most memorable matches for me will be those qualifier wins against Galway and Laois. I think the Laois match in particular.” The match against the O’Moore County in 2015 cemented Kerr’s name in Saffron footballing history as Kerr joked: “I became the first Antrim goalkeeper to score a point in championship football in that match.
“That match was special. We came back from eight or nine down at half time in a match no-one gave us a prayer in. I think in the space of two minutes I scores a point and saved a penalty.”
From the joker in the changing room to being vocal yet enigmatically brilliant between the sticks, Kerr now goes from netminder to supporter. It’s not something that the St Galls man sees him struggling with while telling me about his ‘rocks’ throughout his career: “It will be strange initially but I’m looking forward to it. This day was always going to come at some stage.
“My biggest supporter has always been my mum. Especially after dad passed away. She took on the roll of two parents and was always there for me. She would never miss a home game and is my biggest fan. My fiancé Maria has helped me through the ups and downs of being an Antrim player as well. I owe both of them a lot for how they’ve helped and supported me during my county career.”
In a career of highs and lows in a way that only playing for Antrim can bring, Kerr told me he’s immensely proud of his achievements in the Saffron shirt – none more than captaining Antrim against Fermanagh in Casement Park just two days after his dad’s funeral in 2013: “I’ve played for Antrim somewhere between 80 and 100 times. I’ve Captained the team and I’ve played in Croke Park.
“I’m proud of a lot of things, those matches against Galway and Laois but the work recently with the GPA will go down as one of my biggest achievements from playing for Antrim.” Just last month, the St Galls man attended the European Parliament to retell his battle with depression to help raise awareness of mental health problems: “I didn’t know what to expect from it all when I told my story but the thought of being in Brussels and the European Parliament never entered my head at all.” Kerr continued by joking: “The whole situation was very overwhelming. I suppose they maybe found it strange they had someone from west Belfast talking about something other than the Border or Brexit!
“If my story helps just one person out there who is struggling, then it will have been worthwhile.”
As Kerr calls time on his Antrim career, it’s easy to see why he’s so popular around the county and beyond. A top goalkeeper and a character to boot. Someone who took huge pride in his performances for Antrim and someone who will never let you forget…..he scored a point and saved a penalty during two minutes of brilliance in Portlaoise.
Enjoy your inter-county retirement Chris, Antrim’s loss will be St Galls’ gain for 2019 and beyond.