Ulster’s Players of the Year

Shaun Casey takes a look back at the Ulster players who have won the prestigious Footballer of the Year award

Kieran McGeary (Tyrone) – 2021

TYRONE ended a 13-year wait for an All-Ireland title and captured the Sam Maguire Cup in the first year of Brian Dooher and Feargal Logan’s joint-management ticket. The Red Hands claimed the Ulster title, beating Monaghan by a point in Croke Park, before coming through an extra-time victory over Kerry to book their place in the showpiece. Kieran McGeary earned Man of the Match awards in both those encounters as well as an early round triumph over rivals Donegal. McGeary, who played the majority of the campaign at wing half-forward, picked up his first All-Ireland medal, first All-Star award and was named as the Football of the Year for the 2021 season.

Karl Lacey (Donegal) – 2012

DONEGAL’S transformation under Jim McGuinness was breathtaking as within his first two seasons, Donegal went from no-hopers to All-Ireland champions. While the team evolved under his reign, Lacey’s quality was already well known throughout the country. Even in the wilderness years, before Jimmy was winning matches, Lacey was picking up All-Star awards. The Four Masters defender was named in the Team of the Year for 2006 and 2009 as the Tír Chonaill men reached the last eight of the All-Ireland series and won back-to-back All-Stars in 2011 and 2012 to accompany his two Ulster medals, his All-Ireland title and his Player of the Year gong.

Sean Cavanagh (Tyrone) – 2008

MICKEY Harte made a name for himself for his tactical nous and was never afraid to mix things up. Sending Cormac McAnallen to the full-back line from midfield during the 2003 season turned out to be a genius move while in 2008, he sent towering midfielder Sean Cavanagh to the edge of the square at the other end of the field. Cavanagh had been an All-Star at centerfield in 2003, 2004 and 2005 and was even named as Young Footballer of the Year as Tyrone landed their first ever All-Ireland title. But Cavanagh’s move to full-forward was a masterstroke as he kicked 0-5 in the final against Kerry.

Stephen O’Neill (Tyrone) – 2005

WHILE Stephen O’Neill came out of retirement to help Tyrone over the line in 2008, he was central to their All-Ireland run in 2005. O’Neill was simply unstoppable for most of the season and memorably kicked 0-10 off Francie Bellew in the drawn Ulster final with Armagh. O’Neill had a huge hand to play in the now famous Owen ‘Magic’ Mulligan goal against Dublin in the All-Ireland quarter-final while O’Neill slotted home a penalty against Armagh to ensure Tyrone’s passage to the decider. He finished this season as championship top scorer with 5-49 and nailed 0-3 in the final against Kerry.

Steven McDonnell (Armagh) – 2003

TWELVE months after claiming the Sam Maguire trophy for the first time in their history, Armagh were back in the final trying to defend their title. Joe Kernan’s men ultimately lost to arch-rivals Tyrone by three points, but Steven McDonnell enjoyed perhaps his finest season in an orange and white shirt. The Killeavy ace kicked 5-25 as the Orchard County took the scenic route to the All-Ireland final as they lost their Ulster crown following a four-point defeat to Monaghan in the opening round. But McDonnell, who hit a hat-trick against Limerick, led the line as Armagh made it back to the All-Ireland final.

Kieran McGeeney (Armagh) – 2002

‘GEEZER’ is Armagh’s most decorated player and was the first to hail from the Orchard County to claim the Footballer of the Year award after leading Armagh to the Promised Land in 2002. McGeeney had previously picked up All-Star awards for his performances in the orange and white jersey in 1999 and 2000 before landing his third All-Star in four seasons. McGeeney was an outstanding leader of men and gave a superb display in the final as Armagh edged past Kerry by the minimum of margins, 1-12 to 0-14. McGeeney remains a cult hero in Armagh and next season will be his tenth in charge of his native county.

Peter Canavan (Tyrone) – 1995

THE early part of the 90s was a golden age of Ulster football as Down (1991 and 1994), Donegal (1992) and Derry (1993) all climbed the steps of the Hogan Stand to claim the Sam Maguire Cup. Tyrone wanted to carry on the northern momentum in 1995 but lost out by a single score to Dublin in the All-Ireland final. Canavan however, produced arguably his best performance ever in a Tyrone jersey that day. Of Tyrone’s 12 points, the Errigal Ciaran sharpshooter hit 0-11 and went on to claim the Player of the Year gong. Canavan ended his career with two All-Ireland medals and six All-Star awards, making him Tyrone’s most decorated footballer.

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