Danny Hughes picks his Irish News Allstars

Monaghan goalkeeper Rory Beggan

It’s that time of the year again. While it only seems like a few weeks ago that the Championship started, we are now guaranteed an Ulster team competing in this year’s All-Ireland final... and neither are Ulster champions. While the Irish News Ulster Allstar team generates debate, the fact that Monaghan and Tyrone are still standing, despite early season jitters, makes a huge difference to my selections...


One justification? The Kerry match. Okay, another? The Galway game. Beggan has become arguably the second best custodian in the country, just behind Dublin mainstay Stephen Cluxton. His kick-outs and deadly accuracy from free-kicks makes him a vital cog in the well-oiled Monaghan machine. Nobody even comes close in Ulster to this Allstar position.


Marked Conor McManus and kept him relatively quiet, something which more lauded players have tried and failed to do. A no-nonsense defender who is strong in the air and equally loves the physical element of the game. At full-back, Rory Gallagher has relied on him to orchestrate the numerous sweepers who play in front of him. Deserves his first Allstar for what has been a good year for Fermanagh football.


Has been tasked with keeping Michael Murphy quiet in the last few years. Stepped up physically to the plate with minimal fuss and this boy can also play. Two points last weekend against Donegal further cemented his reputation and his is slowly beginning to be recognised as a key player. While numbered at ‘9’ last weekend, he can find himself picking up the oppositions target man. For this reason, he is my full-back choice.


Probably wouldn’t enjoy the same exposure as brother Drew, but it would be difficult to round both Wylies in a kick-about in the back garden. What Ryan has in abundance is ferocity in the tackle and his attitude in supporting a fast counter-attack. Supported down the left hand side by evergreen Vinny Corey, both guys seem to pass each other in angled hard running, not only opening space, but as an outlet for the odd score.


McGlynn is just a class act and would be one of the first names on my team sheet. He has been a constant for Donegal in the half-back line and not only defends, which is his primary function, but can be relied upon the attack from deep in Donegal’s own half and support their fast counter-attack. Never put a foot wrong in the Ulster SFC and also kicked a few vital scores into the bargain. Another Allstar won’t be far away.


The Monaghan defender pips Tyrone’s Frank Burns to this spot. Again, what a season for Tyholland clubman O’Connell and you soon start running out of words of praise for this footballer. When Monaghan have struggled in certain games, O’Connell has always emerged with great credit. He has appeared to solely drag the Farneymen through games on occasion. Without doubt, odds on for another Allstar award.


One of the best footballers in the country right now and has been since bursting onto the scene under Jim McGuinness. That freedom enjoyed in this position means that he ships some very serious punishment from bigger men. He has a huge repertoire of footballing skill in his armoury. His movement, soloing and shooting are of the highest order. McHugh’s willingness and will to win is what makes him a ‘born winner’.


Mr Consistency. Remember the time he was once called in as a goalkeeper? Seems like a long time ago and, since then, Darren has become one of the best midfielders in Ulster. Strong in the air, he has serious levels of fitness and was brilliant again last week against Galway, knocking over some beautiful points. An even better leader around younger players, he puts his head where you wouldn’t put a spade.


I would rather have Murphy play permanently at 14 and come to the 45 rather than have him travel around the field breaking up play. You cannot deny, though, that he is effective in the middle of the field, winning primary ball, breaking tackles in support of forwards and, of course, knocking over his long-range frees from the ground. One of the best, if not the best, to come out of Donegal, he has defined them since 2011.


You may say that this is in part due to McAnespie’s four points from play last weekend against Galway. However, this would be an unfair portrayal of a position on the team which demands serious levels of fitness and energy. He tackles well, covers space and provides an excellent ‘out’ ball for Monaghan’s defence. He has also suffered from not taking on shots when in position to do so, instead acting as provider to Conor McManus. Deserves an Allstar.


Tyrone’s playmaker. The Red Hands have been blessed with intelligent ball-playing centre-half forwards and Sludden has adapted to this position in the last two seasons in particular. Not unlike Brian McGuigan (though not at his level just yet), Sludden has improved his scoring returns also in recent years. Again performs as a vital outlet and ball carrier for Tyrone’s counter-attacking game. Deserves his spot at centre



I reckon Mac Niallais has the potential to be a top player in the coming years. He has a ‘lazy’ style, however, that’s where that word starts and finishes. He is one of the most stylish players in the inter-county scene at the minute and last weekend he again underlined this class just after half-time when he kicked two beautiful points from distance. He is also very strong and skilful, especially on the ball, and is desperately hard to dispossess.


Without him, Tyrone would not have survived the Meath game. Without his frees, they would not find themselves 70 minutes away from an All-Ireland final. When Tyrone opted to go more direct (after the first Monaghan game) McAliskey and others around him in the forward line shone brighter. While he doesn’t instil the same fear in defenders as previous Tyrone forwards, he remains dangerous – when Tyrone go direct.


The best forward in Ireland. Need I say anymore about the Clontibret sharpshooter? I could start rhyming off his displays in matches against Kerry and Galway as hard evidence, but he has been virtually flawless. His class and ability deserves to be rewarded with an All-Ireland final appearance with the Farneymen and he will aim to nail down that opportunity when Malachy O’Rourke’s men face Tyrone on Sunday.


There are positives for Armagh and one of these is Grugan. It is difficult to sum up any player’s season on the Fermanagh game. It’s fair to say that Armagh simply never showed up that day. After that, Grugan became a real source of strength and helped them to almost secure a quarter-final place. Eventually lost out to Roscommon, dying on their knees as opposed to dying in their boots. Grugan deserves his place.

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