Golden Oldies

By Shaun Casey

Antrim – Paddy Cunningham (Lámh Dhearg)

Cunningham made a stunning return for Antrim during Enda McGinley’s era and helped the Saffron’s climb out of the bottom division. That was in 2021 and two years on, Cunningham, one of the most accurate attackers in Antrim football, is still plying his trade at club level.

The accurate left-footer came off the bench last weekend for Lámh Dhearg and chipped in with two points, including the final score of the day, as they downed Ahoghill by four in the first round of the Antrim SFC. The 2017 championship winners are still one of the big hitters and Cunningham will have a massive part to play throughout the campaign.

Armagh – Aaron Kernan (Crossmaglen)

Perhaps the greatest club player Armagh has ever produced, Kernan is still one of the best and is chasing his 18th club championship medal this summer. The legs may not be able to bomb forward as much as they used to, but Kernan’s brain is as quick as ever and he’s still an essential part of Anthony Cunningham’s side.

After a two-year hiatus where the Rangers lost championship finals to Maghery (2020) and Clann Eireann (2021), Crossmaglen reclaimed the throne last season and begin the 2023 championship campaign as red-hot favourites to retain the title. Kernan will have a huge say in how their year plays out.

Cavan – Mark McKeever (Gowna)

Last year seemed to be the perfect swan song for the 39-year-old, but the Gowna play-maker is back for another season of pulling the strings. McKeever, who won his first Cavan SFC medal in 1999, also picked up titles in 2000 and 2002 before claiming his fourth last summer when they overcame Killygarry in the final.

Gowna kickstart their title defence in a few weeks’ time with an opening round clash against Lacken and remain one of the favourites to claim the Oliver Plunkett Cup. The versatile McKeever, who had a stellar career in the blue and white of Cavan, is still doing to business for the Gowna men.

Derry – Patsy Bradley (Sleacht Néill)

Bradley was involved in the first ever Sleacht Néill side to win the Derry SFC in 2004 and since then has been a major part of the golden generation, winning four titles in a row (2014-2017) along with a further one in 2020, three Ulster Championships and featured in two All-Ireland finals. In all, Bradley has six county championship medals.

The men in maroon remain one of the top contenders in the Oak Leaf County, even if their dominance has been somewhat replaced by the emergence of Glen in recent years. Still, Bradley is one of the most experienced campaigners in the county and although legendary status has already been secured, he’s willing to give it another year.

Donegal – Eamon McGee (Gaoth Dobhair)

McGee made his name as a teak tough defender and marked some of the best forwards in Ireland during his Donegal days, like Kieran Donaghy and Sean Cavanagh, but in more recent years he’s taken a leaf out of their book and has stationed himself on the edge of the square for Gaoth Dobhair.

At age 39, McGee still has plenty to offer at club level as the Gaoth Dobhair men aim to wrestle the county title back into their possession having last claimed the throne in 2018. 2019 was the last time they reached the final, but McGee is willing to give it another year to try and help his club to bigger and brighter days.

Down – Conor Laverty (Kilcoo)

It’s been a whirlwind of a year for Conor Laverty, manging Down at u-20 and senior level while also finding time to still tog out in his beloved club colours and represent Kilcoo against some of his own players. Laverty’s love for football, and Down football, can never be called into question.

He led the Mourne u20s to the Ulster title earlier in the year and also took Down to the Tailteann Cup final, although Meath dashed their dreams of Croke Park silverware. Now, all of Laverty’s attention will be on helping the Magpies retain the Frank O’Hare trophy for the eleventh time in 12 years.

Fermanagh – Marty McGrath

The 2004 All-Star midfielder is still togging out at club level for Ederney. McGrath helped his club win the Senior Championship in 2020, for the first time in 52 years, and has returned to club training as they aim for another tilt at the title. At 42 years of age, McGrath brings with him a bag of experience.

And he’s still playing his part at county level as well as he remains on the Tyrone GAA Masters team who are going in search of a fourth All-Ireland title on the trot. McGrath is still well fit to old his own around the middle and could be in for another great year at club level.

Monaghan – Paul Finlay (Monaghan)

A Man of the Match performance in his first ever Ulster Club Championship appearance may have been the best way for ‘Jap’ to sign off on an incredible club career, but Finlay is set to return to the maroon and white for another season. Finlay was in fine form last year when Ballybay claimed the Monaghan SFC title.

Finlay helped Jerome Johnston’s side derail Scotstown’s bid for three-in-a-row last season and kicked 0-4 as Ballybay overcame Crossmaglen in the first round of Ulster. Kilcoo halted their journey the next day out, but Finlay has decided to give it another go and as the old saying goes, class is permanent.

Tyrone – Plunkett Kane (Coalisland)

Coalisland have had a difficult few years since reaching the Tyrone SFC final in 2021, losing to Dromore by seven points on the day, but through it all, Plunkett Kane is still doing the business at centerfield.

Kane didn’t make a huge impact on the inter-county scene when togging out in the red and white, but as a club footballer, he’s still having a huge impact on games. He recently played at midfield in a league game against Moortown and helped his side pick up their second win of the campaign.

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