Derry’s win over Armagh brought the curtain down on another Ulster Senior Football Championship. Michael McMullan cast his eyes over the key players in his Team of the Year selection.
1 – Odhrán Lynch (Derry)
LITTLE to choose between him and Ethan Rafferty but saving three penalties in a shoot-out is something Lynch, Derry folk or indeed anyone else will ever forget. It was drama of the highest order. Aside from his high number of possessions, he kicked two excellent points in the first games and was out claiming kick-outs.
2 – Chrissy McKaigue (Derry)
MAY have struggled with Ultan Kelm’s pace in the opening game, but he grew into another fine championship season to back up his 2022. Takes immense pride in defending and shook off the effects of injury to come out on top of the minutes he spent on Conor McManus, Jack McCarron, Rian O’Neill, Andrew Murnin and Conor Turbitt.
3 – Eoin McEvoy (Derry)
THREE championship games. That’s all the Magherafelt teenager has to his name. From the minute he fisted over the bar early in the win over Fermanagh on his debut, he never looked back since Rory Gallagher put faith in his youthful courage. His block on direct opponent Andrew Murnin was huge in the final and he won as many restarts as Armagh’s kick-out magnet did.
4 – Conor McCluskey (Derry)
A THIRD Magherafelt player in the back four. ‘Clucky’ can count himself very unlucky not to get an All-Star last season and he has got even better. His out and out marking role robbed in the league final against robbed Derry of the attacking threat that saw him hammer a first championship goal against Monaghan.
5 – Conor O’Neill (Armagh)
AN attacker by trade, O’Neill has been Armagh’s point a game man in a role that always sees him pair up with the player the opposition pull out. Stayed close to Ethan Doherty in the final. He always looks very comfortable in possession and kicked a fine score against Down to match. When the fat was in the fire against Derry, he curled a point from almost the same spot on the Clones turf.
6 – Karl O’Connell (Monaghan)
AS performances go, what he gave Monaghan in their win over Tyrone was awesome. He had limited game time in the league as Vinny Corey primed him for championship time. He was the key player in the preamble to Ryan O’Toole’s goal and he did what many have failed – run through the heart of the Derry defence with burning pace to hit a goal followed by a fine point.
7 – Jarly Óg Burns (Armagh)
HAD Rory Grugan noticed him free in front of goal in the last play of Sunday’s final, Burns would almost certainly have kicked Armagh to a first title since 2008. Burns had been carrying the ball through midfield and stepped up even more in Jemar Hall’s absence on Sunday. Hit two of Armagh’s scores and was involved in another three.
8 – Conor Glass (Derry)
GLASS plays much of his football doing the dirty, unseen work in defence. Kicked the first point against Monaghan and added a second after the Oaks conceded their second goal. A fine rob to strip Turbitt close to goal and hoovering up a break from a dangerous ball broken by Ciaran McFaul are two key moments from the final. His massive catch in extra time and hammered penalty weren’t bad either.
9 – Brendan Rogers (Derry)
IT’S hard to believe he ever played at full-back. His 1-4 from midfield is the result of one of Rory Gallagher’s best decisions. It’s no coincidence that James McCarthy’s tagging job coincided with Derry’s struggle in the league final. His late points downed the Dubs in their key promotion game at Celtic Park and his 1-2 on Sunday had Armagh chasing a game they could otherwise have won.
10 – Ryan Johnston (Down)
CARRIED a fine club season into the county jersey in a range of positions in the central third. He was the man Donegal couldn’t tie down in the Marshes. He hit the first score of play and used his pace to win frees. He found space to win and kick two marks and won the game-changing penalty. Kicked a fine score against Armagh in a fine battle with Jarly Óg Burns.
11 – Paul Cassidy (Derry)
HIT the ground running against Fermanagh with a weaving run that led to him finishing to the net. He has turned into one of Derry’s key players and has played all 39 games since making his debut. He added to his 1-2 from the Fermanagh game with another two tasty points against Monaghan while always presenting for kick-outs. On the ball plenty in the final, but didn’t have the same end product.
12 – Ethan Doherty (Derry)
THE fact Armagh did a good job on him in the final – by limiting his space on the backdoor cut – but he still had assists in four of Derry’s points, including Lachlan Murray’s fisted effort that looked to have won the game in extra-time, spoke volumes. He was on target himself in the first two games and his energy saw him as one of the key players to look for in match-ups.
13 – Rian O’Neill (Armagh)
HAD a brilliant final with two monster points from play, a vital 45 and still had to hold his nerve to kick a late, late free to force penalties. He missed the Antrim game, but came on to make a brilliant diving save on the line against Cavan. His trademark long balls are the source of many of Armagh’s attacks like Ciaran Mackin’s goal against Down. Showed great composure to create space for his goal against the Mournemen.
14 – Shane McGuigan (Derry) – STAR MAN –
THREE awesome displays with a combined 2-21 (1-12 from play) to his name shot Derry to an Ulster title. Followed up his 2-5 against Fermanagh with nine in the semi-final. In the final, and in extra-time in particular, McGuigan was awesome. He was calling for and winning kick-outs, he was back working for the team and kicked some stupendous points.
15 – Andrew Murnin (Armagh)
OF the 64 contested Armagh kick-outs – not simple pokes to a corner-back – in the Ulster championship, Murnin got hands on 10 of them and he didn’t play against Antrim. An awesome player. One you’d always want on your team. Of the 1-10 he bagged this season, 1-2 came in the championship and he is their main ball winner with a healthy share of assists.
- IT was a struggle to pick this team and leave both Paudi McGrogan and Ciaran Mackin out. The joys of picking All-Star teams. Both had excellent campaigns in different ways and could’ve made the cut just as easily. Another notable performer was Darragh Canavan who notched 1-4 from play against Monaghan.