ULSTER'S FINEST: Irish News All-Stars Men's Football Team of the Year

Midfielder Brian Kennedy is one of 12 Tyrone players to be named on the Irish News Ulster All-Stars Football Team of the Year     Picture: Seamus Loughran
Midfielder Brian Kennedy is one of 12 Tyrone players to be named on the Irish News Ulster All-Stars Football Team of the Year     Picture: Seamus Loughran



The evolution of the goalkeeping role in Gaelic Football has been relentless in recent seasons and Niall Morgan has been at the forefront. His 70-metre free on the cusp of half-time in the dramatic semi-final win over Kerry was one of the many highlights of Tyrone’s remarkable Championship odyssey. The Edendork clubman, who won an Ulster All-Star in 2017, followed it up with another brilliant performance in the All-Ireland final against Mayo.



Tough-tackling corner backs have been a staple of Tyrone’s All-Ireland winning teams in the past and they don’t come much more uncompromising than Michael McKernan.

Wasn’t afraid to get forward either and he clipped over a delightful point against Kerry and restricted Mayo Ryan O’Donoghue to a single point from play in the All-Ireland decider. The Coalisland defender is a first-time Ulster All-Star recipient.


At different times during the All-Ireland final, Ronan McNamee was left one-on-one inside with Aidan O’Shea, but little seems to faze the experienced Aghyaran full-back. Won a national All-Star in 2019 and picks up his fourth Irish News Ulster All-Star following a season when he confirmed his position as one of the very best defenders in Ireland.


Became the third Tyrone captain to lift the Sam Maguire in September following in the footsteps of Peter Canavan (2003) and his joint-manager Brian Dooher (2005 and 2008). The Coalisland native Took the leadership role in his stride and kicked points against Monaghan, Kerry and Mayo. Won his first All-Star in 2018 and looks certain to add another in the coming weeks and picks up his third Irish News Ulster All-Star.



Few players epitomise the battling qualities of the Red Hands better than Kieran McGeary. The versatile Pomeroy man is a former Sigerson Cup winner with St Mary’s and he played a leading role of Tyrone’s success with man-of-the-match performances against Donegal and Kerry. Picks up his first Ulster All-Star and he is on the short-list for the coveted Footballer of the Year awards.


While 2021 marked the coming-of-age of several Tyrone players, it marked the return to form of one of their classiest players. Peter Harte made his senior debut back in 2010 having won an All-Ireland minor in 2008 and has been an ever-present in the Red Hand team for over a decade. This season, he was consistently brilliant and rounded off a fine season with a superb display against Mayo. A national All-Star winner in 2016, the Errigal Ciaran man now has six Irish News All-Stars.


While Tyrone were engaged in some frantic battles throughout the All-Ireland Championship, Monaghan provided them with their sternest test in the provincial campaign. Just a point separated the sides at the end of a helter-skelter Ulster final in Croke Park at the end of July.

Monaghan’s comeback ultimately fell short, but Ryan McAnespie was one of their liveliest players in the Championship. The Emyvale clubman delivered assured displays in the wins over Fermanagh and Armagh as well as the provincial decider and halts a Tyrone clean sweep in the defence on this year’s selection by winning his second Irish News All-Star.

Tyrone's Padraig Hampsey and Monaghan's Conor McManus have both made this year's team
Tyrone's Padraig Hampsey and Monaghan's Conor McManus have both made this year's team



Midfield has long been seen as a problem area for Tyrone, but they found a solution in fine style in 2021 with a pairing that was fit to go toe-to-toe with the very best in Ireland. Derrylaughlin’s Brian Kennedy was one of Tyrone’s most improved players this season and he saved his best to last by getting the better of Matthew Ruane in the All-Ireland decider and collects his first Ulster All-Star.


Conn Kilpatrick made his Championship debut for Tyrone in the Ulster quarter-final win over Cavan in Healy Park and ended his rookie season as an All-Ireland hero. The Edendork native made a stunning fetch in the All-Ireland final which resulted in his side’s second goal, finished by his club colleague Darren McCurry. Deservedly wins his maiden Ulster All-Star.



Prior to the All-Ireland semi-final, Paudie Clifford was being talked about as a candidate for Footballer of the Year. After the All-Ireland semi-final, Conor Meyler found himself in the conversation for that accolade after a stunning man-marking performance. Continued in that vein in the decider against Mayo, delivering a perfectly flighted pass for Cathal McShane’s goal and the Omagh native becomes a first-time winner of an Ulster All-Star award.


Much like Peter Harte, Niall Sludden is equally adept at playing in the half-back line as he is in the half-forward line and is likely to cover every blade of grass during a game.

Kicked three points from play in the Ulster semi-final win over Donegal and two in the first half against Mayo. The Dromore clubman is selected on the Irish News Ulster All-Star team for the fourth time.


Armagh retained their Division One status and came within a whisker of reaching the Ulster final for the first time since 2008 following an agonising 4-17 to 2-21 loss to Monaghan in Newry. Rian O’Neill was Armagh’s standout performer in 2021 and is rapidly becoming one of the most complete footballers in the country. An Ulster All-Star in 2019, the Crossmaglen ace hit 1-11 in two Championship outings with the Orchard County in 2021.



While Tyrone’s momentum grew throughout their 2021 Championship season, Darren McCurry hit the ground running with 0-10 (0-6 from play) in the quarter-final victory over the-then Ulster champions Cavan. Finished the season as the second highest scorer in the Championship with 1-30 (1-16 from play) and a man-of-the-match display in the All-Ireland final against Mayo. The Edendork clubman collects his first Ulster All-Star.


It is a testament to the versatility of Mattie Donnelly that he collects his seventh Ulster All-Star award in his fourth position. Having previously been selected at half-back, midfield and half-forward, the Trillick stalwart has found a new role as a ball-winning target man in Tyrone’s attack. A two-time national All-Star recipient, Donnelly was also part of Tyrone’s 2008 All-Ireland winning minor squad alongside Peter Harte.


Superlatives barely to justice to the phenomenal talent of Conor McManus who, like Mattie Donnelly, is selected on the Ulster All-Star team for a seventh time.

The Clontibret attacker, who also has national awards from 2013, ’15 and ’18, dragged the Farney over the line in a breathless Ulster final against Armagh with some nerveless free-taking to secure a 4-17 to 2-21 success. McManus is, quite simply, one of the finest forwards of his generation.