GAA Football

Brian Canavan selects his Allstar side from the men he played with or managed

Brian Canavan played for Armagh for 14 years and was joint-manager with Brian McAlinden for another six
Andy Watters

THE brief was to select his personal Allstar side from the men he played with and/or managed.

Brian Canavan played for Armagh for 14 years and was joint-manager of the Orchard County for another six, winning back-to-back Ulster titles and laying the foundations for the 2002 All-Ireland success during that time.

Along with men from those two eras, he was able select from the Ulster University and Ulster Railway Cup teams he represented and the well-balanced team he settled on is packed full of Allstar winners. Andy Watters writes…

1 Brian McAlinden (Armagh)

THE first goalkeeper ever to place kick-outs. He told you where to run and how to run. Before that goalies just kicked the ball out as far as they could and they were still doing that up until recently. Brian was also a great shot-stopper, he had played soccer and he probably could have been an international goalkeeper but he concentrated on Gaelic football.

2 Denis Stevenson (Armagh)

HE started his career in the forward line but became a very tight, tenacious defender. Always very solid and dependable in the full-back line for Armagh.

3 Mark Turley (Jordanstown)

AN old-school full-back. He manned the square and put the fear of God into any forward he came up against. He went on to captain Down in 1983 when they beat Armagh in the National League final.

4 Joey Donnelly (Armagh)

PROBABLY the best man-marker I ever saw. He was always put on the best forward in the other team. I remember him marking the great Matt Connor (Offaly Allstar) on several occasions and keeping him very quiet. We marked Nudie Hughes (Monaghan) or Mikey Sheehy (Kerry) and did the same job.

5 Martin McQuillan (Armagh)

A VERY quick wing half-back. He could create scores with his pace, he was brilliant going forward and created a lot of opportunities. Once he found his best position – which was as a half-back – he was practically unstoppable going forward. He was unlucky that he came at a time when Armagh weren’t that successful.

6 Kieran McGeeney (Armagh)

A VERY strong centre half-back. His big thing was the leadership he brought to the team when myself and Brian McAlinden were managers. He was able to bring other players into the game and he was able to push them onwards and upwards.

7 Kevin McCabe (Jordanstown)

A STAR for Tyrone and I played with him at ‘the Poly’. The most athletic player I ever played with, he could have played anywhere on the pitch but I always thought his best position was going forward from the half-back line. Maybe not the best man-marker in the world but he made up for it with his ability to get up the field and score himself or create opportunities for the forwards. I played with him for Ulster as well. A great player.

8 Colm McKinstry (Armagh)

ONE of the best fielders of a ball I’ve ever seen. He knew his limitations in that he stayed in the middle of the field, won possession and then got the ball to one of the forwards. He was an Allstar in 1980. He worked between the two 45s and he wasn’t a great score-taker but he knew that and he did a great job defensively. He was able to win a lot of ball against all the top midfielders at the time.

9 Mark Grimley (Armagh)

AN outstanding fielder of the ball with great physical strength.

Again, he put the fear of God into a lot of players he came up against because he was very, very physical. He played for Ireland in the International Rules Series and was man of the series in Australia.

A very strong, impressive player. I played with him and against him but him and his twin brother John were just finishing up when I came in as manager. We tried to get them back but they thought it was time for the next generation to take over.

I first came across Mark in club football. He played for Armagh Harps when I played for Carrickcruppen and we had been very strong in midfield. Then, all of a sudden, the Grimleys appeared.

The came in as young fellas and progressed steadily and learned good discipline. If the ball was in the air, Mark Grimley got it, that’s all there was to it. He was so strong, I remember playing Dublin in Croke Park and Ciaran Whelan was playing for the Dubs. Mark completely over-ran him.

10 Paul McGrane (Armagh)

A VERY strong midfielder who won a lot of possession.

He was a real workhorse up and down the pitch and his distribution was very good. He knew where to be and what to do with the ball. Remember the goal against Kerry in the All-Ireland final in 2002? He was the man who played the ball to Oisin McConville.

A great competitor, he never gave up. He was raw talent in his early years and he worked hard on his game. He started off with us at wing half-forward and he became stronger as he got older, which is normal for midfielders.

Around the middle you need that strong physique and he developed it. His workrate was as good as you’d see because he was up and down the field so much. A strong player and a very brainy player.

11 Joe Kernan (Armagh)

ONE of Armagh’s greatest-ever players. He could have played in midfield but he was always a targetman at centre half-forward from Brian McAlinden’s kick-outs. If he wasn’t man of the match, he was always close to it in every game.

Won a couple of Allstars (1977 and 1982). He could win possession because he was so strong and he could also have scored points and, on many occasions, goals as well. He was a leader in the Armagh team when I came into it.

He was a guy people looked up to and he was always a great help to me, he would have put an arm around your shoulder and guide you as best he could. A great leader.

Joe Kernan: "One of Armagh's greatest players"

12 Fran McMahon (Armagh)

FROM Culloville. Another very strong player with all the physical qualities. He could have played in midfield but I always thought his best spot was in the half-forward line. He had the strength to go in and win a ball but he could also take the ball on and take a score with either foot. He had great feet. A skilful player with a great eye for a score.

13 Diarmuid Marsden (Armagh)

HE was the best forward we (the two Brians) had in our time as the management.

He was a shy guy when he first started and he needed that wee bit of a push, a bit of encouragement, because he always had the ability. He had a lot of injury problems at the start but once he got over them and became stronger physically he could win his own ball, he had the brains to pass it when the time was right and he could kick a score.

He had everything.

I remember the first round of the Ulster Championship against Donegal in 1999, Diarmuid had been injured, he hadn’t played at all, but he was doing rehab and was fit enough to be on the bench for that game in Ballybofey.

We conceded two early goals and we were losing 7-1 after about 10-15 minutes. It looked like we were out of the Championship, we were gone at that stage.

I looked into the dugout and said to Diarmuid: ‘You’re going to have to go on, we need to make a change or we’re going out here’. He says: ‘If I go on I mightn’t play any more matches this year if I knock this injury back’.

I said: ‘If we don’t win today there’ll be no more matches’. So on he went and we were able to re-jig the team around and come back from the dead and force a draw. We won the replay and went on to Ulster.

"He had everything". Brian Canavan on Diarmaid Marsden.

14. Ger Houlahan (Armagh)

A GREAT targetman and a brilliant goalscorer. He scored some wonderful goals for Armagh in his time.

An Allstar in 1993. Unfortunately for us (as managers) he was coming towards the end of his career when that team of ’99 was coming to fruition because if he had been three or four years younger he would have been the final piece of that jigsaw. If you put a ball in front of him he had the pace to break out and get it and when he got possession he was strong he couldn’t be de-possessed. He had good hands, he knew where to run and he had great skill.

He had played a bit of soccer and he knew where to run to get the ball that would suit him – he was ahead of his time in that way. One of the best full-forwards Armagh ever had.

15 Peter Loughran (Armagh)

THE best Armagh forward in my time as a player. He was a small guy but he could certainly win his own ball. He could have scored from play and he was a great free-taker.

Many a time in my early days, you would have looked at the scoreboard and Armagh might have had 12 points and Peter would have scored nine or 10 of them. He was the go-to guy and he got most of our scores.

I always remember a game against Galway in the Athletic Grounds, They were playing with the wind in the first half and they were leading 11-1 at half-time. We beat them 13-12 at the finish and Loughran scored 10 points in the second half. That’s the type of player he was.


Oisin McConville (Armagh)

IF Peter Loughran hadn’t been in, he would have got that position. A great player and as he progressed he was able to get on the ball more and more. A superb finisher, if he got a chance for a goal or a point he was able to take it.

Jim McConville (Armagh)

A super footballer. He could win possession, he had an eye for goal and created a lot of scoring opportunities. If the ball was played right to Jim he always got it. He played for Ulster too and scored goals upon goals.

John Grimley (Armagh)

HE could come in at centre half-back. A big, strong guy and another one who’d put the fear of God into opposition attackers.

John Corvan (Armagh)

PROBABLY the most naturally-talented player I ever played with. When he didn’t get on the team it was simply because he came and went. If he played Gaelic Football all his career I think he would have been up there with the superstars of the game. He scored the best goal I have ever seen – a volley from about 25 yards into the top corner against Cork in 1983 in the National League. An extremely talented guy.

Kieran McNally (Armagh)

FROM St Paul’s in Lurgan. A very talented centre half-back. A very imposing figure who was afraid of nothing or nobody. He got his hands on a lot of ball.

Stevie McDonnell (Armagh)

I remember him coming into the panel when he was only a young fella. He was light but you could see the natural ability there and he wanted to work at it which was a big thing. He worked hard and he worked on the physical side of his game. He was two-footed and became one of Armagh’s great footballers over the years.


I WAS involved at senior level with Armagh for 20 years between management and playing. I played for 14 years and then managed for six so I saw a lot of very good players coming into the team. Plus I played for Jordanstown as well and four of us went on to play for Ulster one year which shows you the level that team was at. Eugene Young, Kevin McCabe, James McAfee… It was a super team and I could have picked any of those as well.

I came into the Armagh panel in 1978 so I played with the boys who had got to the All-Ireland final in 1977 and when they retired in the early 1980s you had the likes of Martin McQuillan, Neil Smyth and the Grimleys coming in during the mid-’80s.

I tried to balance it between the team I managed and the guys I played along with.

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