GAA Football

Celebrating Ulster's greatest GAA gladiators

Gerry McLaughlin

It was truly a night of a thousand stars, when the Gaelic glitterati togged out in their finest, as the hills around the Cathedral city slowly turned to rust, writes Gerry McLaughlin.

And the Armagh City Hotel was heaving with various legends of the Fall, Ulster’s greatest gladiators who stood tall and straight in their dark suits, dickey bows and pressed white shirts.

These Irish News Ulster All Stars are at the peak of their powers, but some of them were still not quick enough to elude the tough but fair-tackling Joanne Cantwell who pounced on various targets to get a few quotes for posterity.

And if a big part of being a good journalist is not being afraid to ask the hard question in any circumstance, then the host for the night and RTE’s new Sunday Game anchor certainly ticks that box.

Guest speaker Kevin McStay gave what most diplomatically could be termed as a colourful critique of the media.

But if he thought he was going to get “away on a hack” Joanne stopped him in his tracks with a few relevant questions.

Elsewhere the wonderful Gerry Donnelly managed to get away with that trickiest of feats, telling some of the same jokes but still getting us to laugh out loud.

His timing remains brilliant and his south Derry burr is like rich, warm wine.

And he is one of the very few after dinner giggers that can actually get away with the odd swear word and risqué joke.

This year, there was an extra treat for the fans as the 1998 Irish News Ulster All Stars were also honoured.

And boy were the some footballers, from their general Henry Downey to the uber cool, forever-young Brendan Devenney, who once scored 0-14 in a Donegal county final.

Joe Brolly and Jim McGuinness were absent on the night but vivid memories were conjured up of the exploits of this merry band of brothers.

The finest endeavours of Hurling, Camogie and Ladies Football were also honoured at this gala evening.

On a more poignant note, GAA Uachtaran John Horan spoke movingly of the young GAA people who were sadly lost during the year.

He praised the GAA for the work they did with youth: “Playing our games makes our players robust and sturdy to take the knocks that we get in modern society.

“Peer pressure and social media have a lot of negative impact on our teenagers.

“The resilience they need to stand up against that, comes from the leadership given to them by an awful lot of you here tonight in your work”.

And in a night when the media got a fair old dunt, he said: “Without the media, I think our games would not prosper, our sponsors would not be interested and I don’t think our general public would be interested either.”

Indeed.

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