Cahair O'Kane's Irish News Ulster Allstars Selection 2019
1. Niall Morgan (Tyrone)
IT seems there’s no right answer here. Niall Morgan has had an exceptional summer with Tyrone, just as Shaun Patton has had with Donegal. But Morgan just has that little bit more to his game at the minute. He’s made big saves – particularly the two stops against Roscommon – and was an effective sweeper against Cavan especially. He’s also been more settled on his kickouts than previously, returning big success rates. That all-roundness edges him in.
2. Stephen McMenamin (Donegal)
Club: Red Hugh’s
DONEGAL came into the year with serious questions to answer in the full-back line but Stephen McMenamin has taken a big step up to answer some of them. He got the better of Mattie Donnelly and then Marty Reilly in the province. Good game against Meath and then held his own against David Clifford in oceans of space. Was one of their better performers in Castlebar.
3. Ronan McNamee (Tyrone)
THERE have been doubts over McNamee the last two summers, but he has been back at his absolute best this year. Since a tough day with Patrick McBrearty, he’s taken his league form and gone from strength to strength. Ben McCormack, Dara McVeety, Conor Cox and Brian Hurley have all been shunted out the door by his no-nonsense, physical approach. Could win a national Allstar.
4. Darren O’Hagan (Down)
DOWN’S relative lack of success in recent years should not detract from the fact that Darren O’Hagan is as good a defender as there is in Ulster. Renowned for his man-marking abilities, which he displayed in shackling Rory Grugan, Michael Quinlivan and Jason Doherty, he actually played a lot of this year as a wing-back and from there he fearlessly drove his side forward. His ability deserves to be recognised.
5. Aidan Forker (Armagh)
RENOWNED for his ability to pick a pass or kick a score off his classy left foot down the years, this was Aidan Forker 2.0. Detailed to pick up Martin Reilly in the two games against Cavan, he dominated the battle. Next thing there he was at full-back against Conor McManus for 70 minutes, and holding Monaghan’s finest to a single score from play. A new departure but one he took to brilliantly.
6. Hugh McFadden (Donegal)
PLAYED the league in a more orthodox midfield role and excelled, but once Meath opened them up in the final, they resorted to putting McFadden in front of the full-back line. He has been a huge reason for their success since. Outstanding against both Tyrone and Cavan especially, he’s a big unit for the opposition to get the ball or runners past, and he continues to offer his hand on the counter-attack as well. Has morphed into a vital cog for Donegal.
7. Ryan McHugh (Donegal)
TIMING the run has always been a strength of Ryan McHugh’s. Had a quiet year up until the Tyrone game but has been brilliant from that day on. Finding himself higher and higher up the pitch as the summer’s progressed, his ability to get off Michael Murphy’s shoulder on kickouts and wreak havoc remains a huge asset. Mayo’s ability to shut him down through Paddy Durcan was a huge part of why Donegal didn’t advance.
8. Michael Murphy (Donegal)
THE best footballer in Ireland. The development of Donegal’s forward line appeared to have meant Murphy being able to concentrate on his midfield station, and he ran their entire summer from there, until they were in dire straits and he went inside against Mayo to good effect. Be it off Shaun Patton’s kickouts, or his passing ability, or by coming on to the ball late to kick a score, the long-serving captain has led by the very best of examples.
9. Jarlath Óg Burns (Armagh)
A REMARKABLE debut season from one of two Armagh starlets that broke through. His Sigerson Cup performances with St Mary’s had served notice of his ability, but the way in which he settled so quickly to inter-county football was remarkable. Completely unfazed, his best display was in the drawn game with Cavan, where he ran the show. Tormented Monaghan with his powerful running down the middle too. This is only a beginning.
10. Mattie Donnelly (Tyrone)
THE funny thing is that even though Mattie Donnelly appears to be a bigger thorn to the opposition when he’s played up front, as was evidenced by his display against Cork, his form in the deeper role was very good during the middle spell of the summer. Was very good against both Cavan and Roscommon in particular, but it was his game-turning second half display against the Rebels that has become the mark of excellence on the Trillick man’s summer.
11. Rian O’Neill (Armagh)
ANOTHER Armagh man in his debut inter-county season, O’Neill’s performances were laced with temerity. Cared little for reputation nor talent, and was rewarded with a huge tally of 3-21 in the championship. Hit 0-8 against Down and, having been well shackled in the drawn game, he and Jamie Clarke kept Armagh in the replay against Cavan almost on their own. Grabbed two goals in the win over Monaghan and another in Mayo. Has huge potential.
12. Peter Harte (Tyrone)
Club: Errigal Ciaran
HAS come in for criticism, some from this corner, but his summer so far has been truly excellent. Was missed after an early black card against Donegal, but his displays against Kildare, Roscommon and Cork in particular displayed real leadership. Has been running hard at teams from a deep position and has chalked up 1-30 for himself, but his good work has run far deeper than just the scoring rate.
13. Jamie Brennan (Donegal)
IN the absence of Patrick McBrearty for such a long spell, Jamie Brennan was asked to step up and he met the challenge head on. His work in the gym has seen him add power to his pace, and that made him too hot for Ulster’s defences to handle. He had a quieter Super 8s without question but Brennan was arguably man-of-the-match in all three games in their provincial success. Still hit three points against Meath and kept driving at Kerry, winning the late free to draw the game.
14. Cathal McShane (Tyrone)
THE difference from Tyrone 2018 to Tyrone 2019 has been the big man on the edge of the square. For the first time since Stephen O’Neill left the stage, the Red Hands have a forward that they can truly build around. It’s the patience combined with the pace, strength and intelligence of his movement that have made him an exceptionally tough man to mark. He has 4-53 for the year, some 3-43 of it in the championship. It has to be McShane or Murphy for our Footballer of the Year.
15. Jamie Clarke (Armagh)
Club: Neasden Gaels
IT took him two games to warm up, but once Clarke found his feet, he was to Armagh the asset that we saw in the summer of 2017. Outstanding in the replay against Cavan, where he hit four from play and another three frees, he carried that into the win over Monaghan where he got the better of the normally unshakeable Ryan Wylie. Squeezed out of a gap half the size of him to set up the second goal. The missed goal chances were a blot but in the main, his games against Cavan, Monaghan and Mayo were excellent