Feature: Ulster’s golden boys

Shaun Casey looks back at Ulster’s Player of the Year winners on All-Star night.

2021: Kieran McGeary (Tyrone)

TYRONE stormed to a fourth ever All-Ireland title last summer and Pomeroy clubman Kieran McGeary was at the forefront of their resurgence. Led by the new management team of Brian Dooher and Feargal Logan, the Red Hands captured their first Ulster title since 2017 and McGeary picked up two Man of the Match awards during that campaign. He starred against Donegal in the semi-final, kicking 0-3 from play while he gave another brilliant performance in the decider against Monaghan in Croke Park. Tyrone were huge underdogs against Kerry in the All-Ireland semi-final but as they tend to do, they upset the odds and completed their sensational season with an All-Ireland day victory over Mayo.

2012: Karl Lacey (Donegal)

TWO years after being humiliated by Armagh in Crossmaglen, Donegal climbed the steps of the Hogan Stand and witnessed Michael Murphy raise the Sam Maguire Cup. Jim McGuinness’ men finished one of the best fairy-tale stories of the modern game and Lacey was pivotal to everything the team did well that season. The Four Masters clubman was a constant in the Donegal team, even when things were at a low ebb. Throughout his career, Lacey picked up four All-Star awards but its his performance in the summer of 2012 that will live long in the memory for Donegal fans, particularly his long ball to Michael Murphy that began the All-Ireland final against Mayo with a bang.

2008: Sean Cavanagh (Tyrone)

AS Mickey Harte tended to do during his duration as Tyrone boss, he threw a spanner into the works in 2008 as he shifted Sean Cavanagh to full forward. And the tactical move proved to be a stroke of genius. The Moy man led Tyrone to a third All-Ireland crown with a series of fabulous displays with the number 14 on his back. Cavanagh had some massive moments during the run in to that All-Ireland final, including his goal against Dublin where he showed pace, power and all the natural scoring ability needed to play on the edge of the score. In the final against rivals Kerry, Cavanagh gave another masterclass and finished with 0-5 and the Man of the Match award.

2005: Stephen O’Neill (Tyrone)

O’NEILL’S drawn Ulster final performance against Armagh in 2005 was only bettered by fellow Red Hand legend Frank McGuigan’s 0-11 haul in 1984, beating O’Neill’s tally of 10 points. That wasn’t the only notable performance O’Neill gave that season as he led Tyrone to their second ever All-Ireland crown which included a memorable trilogy with their arch-rivals from the Orchard County. While Armagh won Ulster, Tyrone had the last laugh and O’Neill’s goal in the All-Ireland semi-final was crucial in seeing off their old foes. The Red Hands then overcame Kerry in the final and the Clann na nGael man chipped in with 0-4, including two crucial points in the second-half. He finished his career with three All-Stars.

STEVIE FROM KILLEAVY…Stephen McDonnell was the king of the 2003 championship

2003: Steven McDonnell (Armagh)

WHILE Armagh didn’t get the second All-Ireland title they desperately craved, McDonnell enjoyed what was perhaps his best season in the orange and white jersey. After crashing out of Ulster to Monaghan in the first round, Armagh blazed their way to the All-Ireland final via the backdoor route where McDonnell netted against Waterford and claimed a hat-trick of goals against Limerick. The Killeavy star also raised a green flag in the All-Ireland semi-final against Donegal to see Armagh through to the All-Ulster decider against near neighbours Tyrone. The Orchard County lost out in the end, but McDonnell gave another eye-catching display in the decider.

2002: Kieran McGeeney (Armagh)

THE leader of the Armagh team, McGeeney drove the Orchard County to the 2002 All-Ireland title and deservingly picked up an All-Star and the Player of the Year award at the end of the season. Armagh had been knocking on the door over the previous couple of years with the eventual champions Kerry (2000) and Galway (2001) ending their summers. 2002 would be different however and the current Armagh manager gave an inspirational performance in the showpiece against Kerry to get the Orchard County over the line, his block on Dara O’Cinneade one of the many memorable moments ‘Geezer’ had in that final. The image of Kieran McGeeney falling to his knees as the final whistle blows will stay with Armagh fans forever.

1995: Peter Canavan (Tyrone)

IT would take another eight years until Peter Canavan eventually got his hand on the much sought-after Celtic Cross but because of the Errigal Ciaran man, Tyrone were a whisker away from creating history in 1995. Canavan took on the Dublin defence by himself and almost dragged the Red Hand County over the line with his incredible personal haul of 0-11 in the All-Ireland final. Rightly or wrongly, at the end of the game Canavan looked to have levelled the score and forced a replay, but referee Paddy Russell deemed the ball to have been lifted off the ground. Dublin won Sam, but Canavan showed the star quality that everyone already knew he had, and he went on to finish his career with two All-Ireland medals, scoring a memorable goal in his last ever game in the All-Ireland showdown against Kerry in 2005.

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