GAA Football

First-time champions Maghery dominate 2016 Armagh Club Allstars

Maghery's Stephen Cusack is an exceptional talent  
Joe McManus

After winning the Donnelly Group Armagh SFC title for the first time in the club’s history, it’s no surprise that Maghery men dominate the Orchard county’s Allstar selection. Joe McManus picks his 15 best...

 

1. JOHNNY MONTGOMERY 
(MAGHERY)

The former Irish League soccer player, who switched codes some years back, has had his best season in the Sean MacDermott colours. He made good saves over the course of the championship, none more vital than his two point-blank stops against Clann Éireann in the semi-final.

His lengthy kick outs and general distribution were central to Maghery’s historic run. He was strong and confident under high balls and capped a memorable season by keeping a clean sheet in the county final.

2. RICO KELLY 
(CROSSMAGLEN)

Normally plays in the forward division, but when handed a new corner-back role at the start of the season, took to it like a duck to water. He was Crossmaglen's stand-out defender.

Not alone did he excel in a man-marking role, his attacking strength was manifested many times by his upfield forays and picking off points. His two first-half scores against Harps in the quarter-final help settle an out-of-sorts Rangers.

Arguably one of the best defenders in this year’s championship, he has, no doubt, already come under Kieran McGeeney’s microscope.

 

3. SEAN CONNELL 
(ST PATRICK'S)

Easily the best full-back on view, despite the fact it was his first year in the role. Strong, quick and fearless, he was a tower of strength for the Cullyhanna side on their way to the final.

His levels of consistency and application were superb. Though ending up on the losing side, he managed in every round to establish himself as one of the best, making life difficult for forwards. His quick-thinking and sense of positional play was a treat to watch.

Also possesses the art of ghosting through and picking off scores, as showcased by his first minute goal against Sarsfield's in the quarter-final.

4. GERARD CAMPBELL 
(MAGHERY)

A real hero by the lough shore, his remarkable injury-time clearance off the goal line in the county final made sure the silverware wasn’t going to make a last minute U-turn. While he will always be remembered for this flash of heroics, he certainly doesn’t get the nod for the last berth in the full-back line for it alone.

He has been ultra-consistent throughout the championship, seldom putting a foot wrong, strong and courageous with a penchant to surge forward. His fisted point in the county final to put four between the sides in the closing stages was in the insurance calibre.

He won most of his duels with some of the top forwards, an excellent reader of the game, his marking and ball-winning skills were very much to the fore.

5. AARON KERNAN 
(CROSSMAGLEN)

Still rated by many in the Orchard as the best footballer in the county. His natural ability and attacking insight was, once again, highly instrumental in Rangers' run to the semi-final, proving his boundless reserves of energy, pace and quality on the ball have in no way diminished.

Blessed with courage, skill and intelligence, he stood out a mile and, along with his brother Tony, accounted for the bulk of Crossmaglen’s scores in most games, nailing points from frees and play.

A highly gifted footballer, who would still have lots to offer at county level, whether in defence or pushing forward.

6. CIARAN HIGGINS 
(MAGHERY)

One of the driving forces behind the lough shore men in this their historic year. His goal midway through the second-half turned the final the champions’ way, injecting confidence following a period of bad wides.

He also popped up for a late point, keeping the momentum going. His workrate throughout the championship was nothing short of phenomenal, matching sheer hard endeavour with quality footballing ability.

His tight-marking and doggedness are his strong points, allied to his upfield productive sprints, either grabbing a score or setting up one. Surely a county call up is due.

7. STEPHEN CUSACK 
(MAGHERY)

Though named in most games at corner-forward, this exceptional talent played mostly around the half-back line. His dash and purpose are the hallmarks of his play. So difficult to pick up because he runs from deep and exploits pockets of space in opposition defences, as was the case when laying on the game-changing goal for Ciaran Higgins in the county final.

He has scored in every round and his ability as a free taker in the absence of Aidan Forker in the game against Wolfe Tone's was highlighted with 0-7 from dead ball strikes.

Most certainly used all his attributes well this season.

8. JAMES LAVERY 
(MAGHERY)

His leadership as team captain attributed in no small measure to Maghery’s finest hour. The 30-year-old 6’4” powerfully-built midfielder was their launching pad for so many attacks.

His aerial ability is second to none, his engine-room performances handing him star ratings in every round. As ever, he won a lot of first phase possession, gave hits, took hits and kept going. Scored a peach of a goal in the opening round against Annaghmore.

In the final, when Maghery looked uneasy at the start of the second-half, he grasped the nettle and got them up and running again. Could very well have earned himself a recall to county duty.

 

9. BEN CREALEY 
(MAGHERY)

The 19-year-old new kid on the block has been catching the eye with his outstanding displays in this, his very first year. Named man of the match in the county final and recipient of the Bill McCorry Memorial Cup, the youngster has dove-tailed amazingly with James Lavery in the centre of the park.

His extraordinary spring off the ground and ability to clutch the ball from the skies has been one of the major talking points of this year’s championship. He is also athletic, loves to drive forward and take a pop at the posts, his two exquisite points against Clann Éireann showing he doesn’t pack all his eggs into the one basket.

A rare talent with a bright future ahead of him.

10. AIDAN FORKER
(MAGHERY)

An exciting forward who has pace to burn, he was Maghery’s top scorer in the championship. The county man is so versatile, he can perform so many roles. He invariably sets the standards for victory and, even though Sean Connell kept a tight rein on him in the final, the crucial breaks went Forker’s way.

Not alone is he a prolific marksman, he is involved in the creation of so many scores, posing a danger for defences with his tricky running. A player for the big occasion, throughout this year’s championship he put in plenty of tackles in defence, using his positional awareness to snuff out danger.

Inspires his team-mates with his appetite for work and covers so much ground. A key figure in Sean MacDermott’s march to glory.

11. RYAN HENDERSON 
(CLANN ÉIREANN)

It has been an outstanding year for the Lurgan club, winning section B of the All-County Senior League and reaching the semi-final of the championship and it was none other than their elder statesman Henderson who led the way.

He was fantastic all season in both competitions, not only one of the finest sights soloing with the ball, he has the workrate to match and ability to hit angled points. Still remembered for his four goals against Wexford in his county days, Henderson's clever movement and accuracy mean he is always a scoring threat.

Throughout the championship, he produced a superb display of pass-and-move football. While some of the younger fry in this up-and-coming team failed to rise to the occasion in the semi-final against Maghery, the veteran was in a class of his own, never stopped showing for the ball and kicking some marvellous points.

12. TONY KERNAN 
(CROSSMAGLEN)

The county man may have missed a few vital frees towards the end of the semi-final defeat by St Patrick’s but, in a year when the Cross attack wasn’t firing on all cylinders, he was the difference.

Beautifully balanced, composed in possession, his vision and passing were instrumental in unlocking defences during Rangers’ uncharacteristically short stay in the competition.

His splendid goal in the quarter-final against Harps saved his team from defeat on that occasion and some of his point taking in the earlier rounds was exquisite.

 

Maghery's Ronan Lappin underlined his quality in this year's championship  

13. RONAN LAPPIN 
(MAGHERY)

Played as a third midfielder in the final, giving an exhibition of high catching. A player lacking none of the qualities demanded in the modern game. In an era when so many attackers are asked to perform other roles, the 24-year-old 6ft4’’ Maghery man fits the bill.

He has really underlined his character and class in this year’s championship, scoring in most games. Undoubtedly one of the mainstays of the newly-crowned champions' set-up and surely deemed good for a county call-up.

14. MAL MACKIN 
(ST PATRICK'S)

The 33-year-old former county man personifies all that is good and honest in the game. He featured so prominently throughout the championship, playing his heart out in every stage.

Will long be remembered for his sensational late goal which ended Crossmaglen’s quest for 20 titles in 21 years. Big Mal has filled many roles for his beloved club over the years, playing in all key positions and, this year, was their go-to man at full-forward.

Often double marked, he proved a hot handful for most defences. When help was needed further outfield, he was there, showing the mark of a true leader.

15. AIDAN NUGENT 
(ST PATRICK'S)

The former county U21 player missed most of the championship due to injury, but what an impact he made on his return, pocketing 0-10 in the victory over Cross. His scoring attempts were unerring and, while he didn’t exactly live up to that standard in the final, he nevertheless weighed in with 0-9, again mostly from dead-ball strikes.

Highly unfortunate not to have grabbed an injury-time goal, his attempt somewhat miraculously cleared off the line, it’s possible St Pat’s may not scaled the Crossmaglen hurdle had he been unavailable.

County call up seems imminent.

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