Sport

Irish News All-Stars: Middle man McKinless the centre of attention

Gareth McKinless's fiirst two performances against Tyrone and Monaghan almost get him into the team alone
Gareth McKinless's fiirst two performances against Tyrone and Monaghan almost get him into the team alone Gareth McKinless's fiirst two performances against Tyrone and Monaghan almost get him into the team alone

THERE’S no position on a football field that retains its orthodoxy of old, and midfield is no different.

Some might quibble with Gareth McKinless’s positioning among the six shortlisted midfielders given his role, but he lined up at midfield on kickouts and then dropped back as Derry’s sweeper.

Wherever it happens to be, his first two performances against Tyrone and Monaghan almost get him into the team alone. He, more than anyone else, set the tone for Derry’s summer with the way he fearlessly and relentlessly ran at both teams.

His goal against Monaghan was the icing. Whether it was the bad knee troubling him or a change in role for a different reason, he wasn’t as active thereafter, sitting more and attacking less from the Ulster final onwards, although he still notched another goal against Clare.

The deeper he dropped, the more Conor Glass got involved offensively. His season best was in that quarter-final hammering of Clare, but all through he’d been a consistent figure. Defensively he offered a huge amount to Derry and handled enormous amounts of possession.

Voting as it stands has him in the running for Player of the Year.

Thomas Galligan is perhaps the most likely to break up the Oak Leaf partnership.

He was at the heart of so much good in Cavan’s year yet again. Carried the fight in defeat by Donegal, and was man-of-the-match against Fermanagh in a game he began by winning the throwing in and running half the pitch to score a goal.

Galligan’s red card with 15 minutes to go in the Tailteann Cup final was probably deserved for a reckless tackle but it was a harsh end to his year and was costly in the end as Westmeath finished strongly to win.

Jason McGee gave a real dominant display for Donegal in the Ulster win over Armagh and was arguably their best player in the disappointment of the Ulster final defeat by Derry, landing two points.

The same applies to Niall Kearns for Monaghan. His second-half display dominated Conor Glass and helped Monaghan reel Derry’s lead right back in, only they’d left themselves too much to do. He had a fine game down in Castlebar as well in what was his probably best summer since coming back from post-season heart surgery in 2018.

When it came to Armagh’s campaign, Ben Crealey only fought his way into the team halfway through the league but went on to become a magnet for the football.

Every time Conor Gleeson tried to bypass them in the quarter-final loss to Galway, Crealey was the man beneath it. He’d had a similar impact on Niall Morgan’s kickouts in the deliriousness of the win over Tyrone.

Glass and McKinless are the frontrunners, but there are decent arguments for all six.

* This year’s Irish News Ulster GAA All-Star Awards will be presented at a glittering ceremony at the Ulster Hall in Belfast on September 30. The awards are supported by our sponsors O’Neills Sportswear, Millar McCall Wylie, Spar, Options IT, Kingsbridge Private Hospital Group and the Canal Court Hotel.