GAA Football

Tyrone and Monaghan dominate Brendan Crossan's Irish News Allstars selection

The comeback kid Connor McAliskey has emerged as a better player after an injury lay-off

1. Rory Beggan (Monaghan)

FOR a man who doesn't practise his kick-outs too much in training, he was virtually flawless this summer. His ability to land the ball on a sixpence between 0 and 70 metres was fascinating to watch. Majestic against Tyrone – in both games – and set scandalously high standards against Kerry. Converted 18 long distance placed balls. Other nominated goalkeepers should vote for this man because they know he was untouchable this season.

2. Patrick Burns (Armagh)

PERHAPS a bit of a left-field choice but the Forkhill man was one of the success stories of this year's Championship – but one that probably went under the radar. Struggled against Fermanagh but really found his feet after that nightmare evening in Brewster Park. Excelled against Westmeath and never looked back in Armagh's run to the cusp of the Super 8s. A front-footed defender, Burns is a younger version of Andy Mallon but with more power. One to watch in 2019.

3. Padraig Hampsey (Tyrone)

WON rave reviews last season but has graduated to top of the class in 2018. Conor Gormley was once Tyrone's most reliable trouble-shooter. Hampsey is following in his footsteps. The Coalisland man's versatility is incredible. Curtailed Donegal's Michael Murphy in the middle of the field, scoring two second-half points, and then shut out Monaghan's Conor McManus on the edge of the square in the semi-finals. A manager's dream.

4. Ryan Wylie (Monaghan)

A NO-BRAINER of a decision to include the Ballybay man. The 24-year-old bounced back from an indifferent 2017 campaign to re-establish himself as one of the best, most tenacious man-markers in the game. Didn't have a bad performance in nine Championship outings. Ronan O'Neill and Lee Brennan were two of his more notable scalps in 2018. If he doesn't win an Ulster gong, I'll lose faith in Irish News democracy.

5. Vinny Corey (Monaghan)

THE never-say-die Monaghan defender gets the nod after defying the calls of Father Time. Seconds after being stripped for a point by Tyrone's Mattie Donnelly in their provincial duel, the Clontibret man raced the whole length of the field to score the goal that turned the tide in Omagh. One of the toughest players in Ulster, the 35-year-old was very consistent throughout Monaghan's summer and deserves Allstar recognition.

6. Mattie Donnelly (Tyrone)

A SIGN of a class player is how he responds when his team is struggling. The Trillick man kept asking questions of the Monaghan defence when Tyrone were chasing the game in their Ulster clash. He did the same against Donegal in Ballybofey and really excelled in Tyrone's All-Ireland semi-final win over Monaghan, albeit in a more defensive role. Scored in six Championship games (0-9, all from play) and is the natural leader of the Red Hands.

7. Karl O'Connell (Monaghan)

MALACHY O'Rourke has been utilising the 30-year-old's blinding pace to great effect for a number of years now and should mop up one of the wing-back berths. O'Connell was always effective breaking defensive lines but posted his best campaign in a Monaghan jersey. Won countless frees, set up umpteen scores, got on the scoresheet in five out of nine Championship games. Hugely influential in his county reaching the All-Ireland semi-finals.

8. Collie Cavanagh (Tyrone)

I HAD the benefit of watching the All-Ireland semi-finals before picking my line-up and the big Moy man's claims to one of the midfield berths can't be ignored after back-to-back man-of-the-match displays against Donegal and Monaghan. He also scored in both games and is pressing higher up the field too, which has given Tyrone a new edge.

A big-game player, Cavanagh's tackle on Jack McCarron in the depths of the All-Ireland semi-final will go down in folklore.

9. Michael Murphy (Donegal)

THE afternoon in Dr Hyde Park where he hit five booming points against Roscommon at full-forward will live long in the memory. The big Glenswilly man might have dipped in games against Dublin and Tyrone, but he was still hugely influential in delivering another Ulster title for Donegal and was a man-of-the-match contender in every provincial outing. No-one touches him for game intelligence.

10. Ryan McHugh (Donegal)

IT'S not the size of the dog, it's the size of the fight in the dog. Ryan McHugh is just a sensational footballer. In this day and age of science and GAA mathematics, McHugh remains a gloriously untamed footballer who can decide a game in an instant, evidenced by his brilliant goal in this year's Ulster final. Can beat any man from a standing start and was worth the entrance fee in every game he played this summer.

11. Niall Sludden (Tyrone)

SITTING in the press overspill area in the main stand of Ballybofey is the best possible view. You're close to the action and not too high. Sludden was well marshalled by Eoghan ‘Ban' Gallagher that day, but the Dromore man's appetite for hard graft and winning turnovers was exceptional. Scorer of three Championship goals, he has had to deal with some close attention but was still influential. His 1-2 against Monaghan last week edges Peter Harte out of my half-forward line.

12. Ryan McAnespie (Monaghan)

THE fact that the Emyvale clubman had a quiet All-Ireland semi-final should not rule him out of Allstar contention. Brilliant against Tyrone in Ulster he maintained those high standards throughout Monaghan's march to the last four. His career highlight came against Galway in Salthill. Has added scores to his insatiable work-rate – hitting nine points - and was one of the celebrated half-forward wizards of this year's Championship.

13. Patrick McBrearty (Donegal)

SO tempted to throw Andrew Murnin into the mix here because his first half display against Roscommon down in Portlaoise was that good. But Patrick McBrearty gets my vote. He was a sight to behold in Ulster this summer stringing together three excellent displays against Derry, Down and Fermanagh. The provincial series feels like a long time ago which shows the indelible impression McBrearty left on supporters this summer.

14. Conor McManus (Monaghan)

THE man is a genius. Love the economy that ‘Mansy' played with this summer. His looping runs are getting shorter but he remains as deadly as ever. Ronan McNamee was touch tight in their Ulster meeting and still the Monaghan man decided the game. Brilliant to watch against Kerry and his free-taking was probably only eclipsed by his team-mate Rory Beggan. The best forward in the country.

15. Connor McAliskey (Tyrone)

LOVE a comeback story like Skeet's. Wrecked his knee last season and has come back a better player.

The Clonoe O'Rahilly's clubman was Tyrone's best player in the Ulster defeat to Monaghan and he continued producing strong displays through the back door and Super 8s. A quiet enough game against Donegal but back to his best against Monaghan in the semi-finals. His back-to-back points after the restart gave Tyrone the platform for victory.


Aidan Forker (Armagh)

Charlie Vernon (Armagh)

Peter Harte (Tyrone)

Rory Grugan (Armagh)

Eoghan 'Ban' Gallagher (Donegal)

Andrew Murnin (Armagh)

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