The Antrim Ax is still a sore point for me, admits Jim McKernan, as he plans to lead Armagh to All-Ireland youth camouflage.

In terms of starts, it was one of the best opening days of the Antrim Throwing League.

Defending National League champions Galway arrived at Casement Park in mid-February 2006, and towards the end of a tense fight, the formidable Johnny McIntosh scored to save all League points in Belfast.

For Jim McKernan, his first day as manager of the team he also played for was a thrill.

And they were just starting to move. The following week, they easily sent Laois out of the house for eight points.

They took Tipperary to Cushendall in the third round and finished just four points short in a low-scoring game. Two weeks later, Kilkenny beat them at Knowlan Park by just two points.

Croke Park fame followed the Christy Ring Cup.

2007 was a dicey year and they were relegated from the top division, but were subsequently reinstated following a restructuring of the competition during the winter.

But at the end of that season, McKernan learned that he had lost his managerial job to a journalist.

This is already 15 years ago. He still coaches, still manages and will bring another team to Croke Park tomorrow when his Armagh camo plays Antrim in the first of the Camogie All-Ireland Triple Headers at Croke Park.

And yet he admitted that he still feels annoyed at how he was unworthily dismissed by Antrim.

“It was a shame,” he said.

“It was terrible, first of all. It was over, the county was on the rise, we won our first title I don’t know how long ago.

“There were good youth behind us. At this stage, there was a feeling in the air that we were going to return to where we were. But it’s all up in the air.

“Now the good thing is that they have a good group of players who are going in the right direction. They seem to be building the right structures.”

This did not spoil his love of throwing. He had a good time with Down, and last year he led Antrim camo to the All-Ireland Intermediate title.

He has always had former All-Star Paul “Humpy” McKillan as a coach by his side.

“It opened our eyes to our own expectations and that is why we went to Down and lost there in the final. In fact, this is my fifth final as a manager and I have won two. I hope I win more than I lose,” he laughed.

What experience has taught him, others have learned to their own pleasure; Coaching women is more fun, maybe even more than the microscope under which you can watch the men’s team.

“They all have their own personal desires and expectations, and one of the strengths of girls is that they listen to you. They want to know how to get better. On the boy’s side, it could be, “It’s all about me,” McKernan explained.

“But it’s a very good group to work with. The thing is, Armagh is made up of two clubs, and we only figured it out last year in Antrim.”

He continued, “They all want to do the same thing, and you can’t serve two gods.

“There was a lot of activity at the club and many players went out five times a week. Nobody benefited from it.

“But in terms of teams, the progress in Armagh is as high as in any other team I’ve been on.”

He readily admits that he doesn’t care too much about the League.

After losing the junior final last year to Wexford, they wanted to return to Croke Park, so they started training once a week with a plan to peak in July and August.

And they also had to take care of the various obligations of the players.

“Gaelic football is No. 1 in Armagh, women’s Gaelic football is No. 2, hurling is No. 3, and camouflage is in the basement,” McKernan said.

“Since the championship started, the situation has changed and the Armagh County government has allowed us to visit sports fields much more and we use them as our training grounds.

“It was much better and came at the right time, we have good people helping us, so that’s good.”

Last year, when he finished with Antrim, he thought he would make a lot of time for himself. And then the head of Armagh, Sally Rafferty, called. She was persistent and persuasive.

In the end, McKernan gave in. And now he finds himself in Croke Park against a team dressed in saffron.

“You are an Antrim man, but at the end of the day you have a job and we are now in the Armagh family. We are in it,” he said.

“We win, we lose, we are together, and there is admiration for the team and real teamwork.

“So we all know our jobs, from me to the physical therapist to the hurley carrier. We all know what we do on Sunday.”

Even in every detail.