Cahair O'Kane picks his 2017 Ulster Allstars
1. Niall Morgan (Tyrone)
HAS flourished amid a slight shift in policy around Tyrone’s kickouts. The freedom to go longer and to have the option to do so has made him feel assured. Little to do in terms of shot-stopping but the former Northern Ireland under-21 goalkeeper has been very good beneath the high ball. Just edges Blaine Hughes on consistency.
2. Brendan Donaghy (Armagh)
THE longer the summer went on, the further into his own Donaghy came. Started midfield against Down but moved to sweeper against Fermanagh, and was superb thereafter. Shut down a dangerous Westmeath forward line before turning in one of his best ever displays against Kildare. Their outstanding player against Tyrone as well.
3. Ronan McNamee (Tyrone)
SUCH has been his comfort that McNamee has almost created the illusion of having had nothing to do. Kept Danny Tallon, Connaire Harrison and Stefan Campbell all scoreless from play. Didn’t stand on his heels either and has shown a willingness to contribute to the attack.
4. Niall Keenan (Derry)
THERE were plenty that played more football but few that impressed quite as much. Was outstanding in his Championship debut despite the whitewash against Tyrone, completely shutting Mark Bradley down. Composed in Waterford and then excellent again on the experienced Andy Moran in Castlebar.
5. Kevin McKernan (Down)
ARGUABLY his best season in the black and red since 2010, there were times when McKernan was at his best. None moreso than in the win over Monaghan, where he was second only to Connaire Harrison. Led by gritty example against Armagh and kicked two points in the Croke Park loss to the Farney, where his energy was a rare attacking platform.
6. Padraig Hampsey (Tyrone)
SERVED his apprenticeship on the bench last year but has very quickly grown to become a certain starter. His man of the match display against Down was the culmination of the earlier displays coming together. After a solid debut against Derry, outscored Michael Murphy from play in their duel and then hit three points in a brilliant showing in the provincial final.
7. Tiernan McCann (Tyrone)
IT’S one thing knowing about McCann’s threat and another thing stopping it. When he’s opened the legs, he has caused real problems from deep. Scored in each of Tyrone’s four games so far, including the goal that opened the afterburners against Donegal. Looks to have worked hard on his point-taking too.
8. Colm Cavanagh (Tyrone)
HAS been overlooked by the national Allstars committee because of the role that he plays but that might change this year. Still operates as the hugely effective sweeper but seems to have that bit more licence, and Tyrone’s change in kickout policy has allowed him to flourish in the air at midfield. As good as there is about.
9. Niall Grimley (Armagh)
UNFORTUNATE not to start against Down, Grimley got his chance against Fermanagh and took it with a man-of-the-match display. Solid in Westmeath, he was superb down in Tipperary, his long-range free-taking keeping the Orchard in the game for long periods. Just edges out his under-rated midfielder partner Stephen Sheridan.
10. Peter Harte (Tyrone)
HIS Championship actually began by missing a 13-yard free in Celtic Park – but he hasn’t put a foot wrong since. Excellent for the rest of that game, and impressed in a kind of understated way against both Donegal and Down. Really stepped it up a notch in the quarter-final win over Armagh, where he ran the game.
11. Mattie Donnelly (Tyrone)
HAS become increasingly difficult for opposition teams to pick up because of the unorthodox role that he plays, almost like a third midfielder at times. Ability to time runs from deep and his use of the ball in attacking positions are brilliant. Only for a couple of wides he was man of the match against Donegal. Heavily influential in their run so far.
12. Niall Sludden (Tyrone)
ULSTER football’s answer to Denis Irwin. When do you ever see Sludden play a bad game? To the fore as they took control against Donegal and always probing in the Ulster final win. Had good moments in the win over Armagh as well, setting up David Mulgrew’s first goal with a superb diagonal ball.
13. Conor McManus (Monaghan)
THAT he’s held to a higher account is unfair and by normal standards, McManus still had a very effective summer. Hit 1-4 against Cavan, including a crucial and brilliantly taken goal. Kicked one of the best scores of the year off his left foot against Down in Armagh and was inspirational in the sides’ second meeting in Croke Park. Lack of decent service against Dublin undermined his quality.
14. Paddy McBrearty (Donegal)
IT’S hard to believe he’s still only 24. Netted after coming on against Antrim and his finishing against Tyrone was top drawer on an otherwise awful day for Donegal. Hit 1-26 across the Championship, with 0-11 from play including the stunning injury-time winner against Meath. Quite possibly his best summer for Donegal, despite the overall disappointment of their campaign.
15. Connaire Harrison (Down)
TO see him take the Monaghan defence to task one was one thing, but to see him do it a second time suggests that Harrison could have a big influence on Down going forward. His two displays against Drew Wylie will live long in the memory as he dictated the terms of both meetings. Their best forward in the first half against Armagh too.