Monaghan, Donegal, and Tyrone dominate Andy Watters's Ulster Allstar selection
Rory Beggan: Outstanding between the posts for Monaghan this season. Safe hands under the high ball and he conceded only five goals in eight games with three clean sheets. His kick-outs were often uncannily precise and his free-taking was a joy to watch. He has scored 17 long-range Championship points with that casual swing of his right leg and beat Tyrone’s Niall Morgan and Shaun Patton (Donegal) to the number one jersey.
Padraig Hampsey: Now well established as a first choice starter, Hampsey has grown in stature throughout this season. A capable and talented footballer he is at home in defence, where he kept a close watch on Michael Murphy in Tyrone’s win in Ballybofey, and in midfield and is also liable to pop up with important scores.
Drew Wylie: Strong as a bull with the heart of a lion – two essential qualities in any full-back. The disciplined Ballybay clubman has marshalled the Monaghan defence expertly all summer and he is not just an old-school stopper. He broke forward from the back to push the Farneymen to the brink of victory over Fermanagh with two superb points. Monaghan didn’t win that day but they haven’t lost since.
Frank Burns: A very accomplished footballer with an extensive repertoire of sweet skills, Burns is capable of playing anywhere. Used in the half-back line by Mickey Harte, he’s a tenacious tackler and gets a full-back berth in this team. Reads the game so well and is comfortable as the spare man in defence who instinctively knows when the time is right to get forward. Has contributed nine points so far.
Ryan McHugh: Invariably earmarked as the Donegal dangerman in opposition dressingrooms and comes in for a lot of physical attention as markers try to blot out his influence. It’s easier said than done and the Kilcar clubman continues to be the talisman for his county. Quick, brave and intelligent, he scored in every Championship game and made the Tir Chonaill team tick from his own half of the field.
Mattie Donnelly: Has been criticised in the past for slowing down the Tyrone attacks but the Trillick man has found a rich vein of form this year, particularly in the Super 8s when his county really needed him. Strong and athletic, this ball-carrier is able to bulldoze his way through tackles and Donnelly has added 10 points to his defensive/playmaking duties in this year’s Championship.
Karl O’Connell: Is there a fitter player in Ulster? O’Connell must be a nightmare to play against. He’s big enough to play midfield, athletic enough for a half-back and he was on a five-game scoring streak before he drew a rare blank against Galway. It was his trademark tackling and workrate that caught the eye in that game - all season he has helped force the turnovers that led to score after score for the Monaghan forward unit.
Michael Murphy: Tall, strong, quick, skilful and a leader too. The Donegal midfielder was an absolute colossus for the Anglo-Celt Cup winners. A superb striker of the ball, his free-taking off the ground and from his hands is routinely excellent. Wins primary possession and never seems to waste the ball. He signed off on this year’s Championship with a goal and 34 points to his credit.
Darren Hughes: A end-to-end midfielder who works his socks off in every game. When Monaghan don’t have the ball, Hughes drops off into the centre half-back position, when they are in possession he is able to join the attack, break opposition lines and produce an end product to those swashbuckling runs that are his trademark. Was the outstanding midfielder on show when the pressure was on in Galway.
Peter Harte: Tyrone’s outstanding performer season after season. A classy runner and a top drawer footballer, he is always tightly marked, regularly fouled in rotation, but he makes an impact in every game. Posted 1-12 in the Championship so far and was involved in many other scores. Never shirks a tackle and gives his all in the Red Hand cause.
Niall Sludden: A contender for Tyrone’s player of the season, Sludden was earmarked for special attention by the Dublin and Donegal defences in the two most recent Super 8 games and didn’t add to his 2-11 so far. He still made his presence felt with driving runs on and off the ball and accurate passing. He has a calm head under pressure and has emerged as a leader in this Red Hands’ line-up.
Ryan McAnespie: The Emyvale clubman lives in Tyrone but gives heart and soul for his native Monaghan. His fitness and willingness to work around the middle third is complimented by his scoring ability and he had five points in seven games before he came to the fore in a superb performance against Galway. Two points in both halves saw the Farneymen through the All-Ireland semi-finals for the first time in 30 years.
Cathal McShane: Has added consistency to his undoubted ability this season and landed a dozen points for Tyrone. Never lacks for effort and McShane has also become a handy option for Niall Morgan’s kick-outs. He came into his own against Dublin with two superb points just when his side needed them. Keeps Paddy McBrearty – whose outstanding season ended with injury in the Ulster final - out of this team.
Conor McManus: Had an off day against Fermanagh when he was shackled by Che Cullen, but McManus has moved through the gears as the summer has progressed and Monaghan fans will hope there’s even better to come. A team player and a driving force in the dressingroom and on the field, the Clontribret clubman has posted 2-40 in eight games with a personal best of 1-9 against Kerry. Wins frees and converts them, there isn’t a better forward in the game.
Connor McAliskey: After fighting his way back from a cruciate injury this year, McAliskey registered 2-34 in eight Championship games. Easily Tyrone’s top scorer, he is the only Red Hand to raise a flag in every match with a best of 1-8 versus Meath. A tireless worker, he runs down blind alleys and shows for passes that never come. The Clonoe forward will hope to finish 2018 with a flourish at Croke Park.
Andrew Murnin (Armagh)
Kieran Duffy (Monaghan)
Paul Brennan (Donegal)
Dermot Malone (Monaghan)
Eoghan Ban Gallagher (Donegal)
Che Cullen (Fermanagh)