2020 Down Senior Club Football All-Stars revealed ...
Over the course of the next week, our GAA correspondents continue to profile their Top 15 players from their respective Senior County Championships; today it's Shaun Mahoney's Down selections....
1: Mark Hynes (Carryduff)
The Carryduff shot-stopper is the obvious choice for this season’s Down Senior Club Championship goalkeeping slot.
His double-save in the senior championship semi-final against Ballyholland Harps was critical in securing his clubs first ever appearance in a senior final. Agile, brave and quick on his feet Hynes offered the reassurance his team needed to advance up the other end of the pitch, but he also delivered an attacking string to Carryduff’s bow with his varied and accurate kick-outs, which kept their opponents guessing.
2: Niall McEvoy (Kilcoo)
Niall is the first of seven players from the Down Senior Club Champions to make the team in 2020.
He played in all but one of the championship games and he was excellent throughout, whether sweeping up as spare defender or making the articulate tackles to dispossess opponents. In the knockout stages he cleared balls off the goal-line and pushed further up field to aid the Magpies attack. His work-rate epitomises that of his team and his tidy defending is worth watching.
3: Ryan McEvoy (Kilcoo)
A fantastic footballer who continues to improve and he was one of the best performers of the Down Championship this year. A towering figure in full-back he was impressive against Clonduff, Carryduff, Rostrevor and the two games against Warrenpoint. He played both the traditional edge of the square defender and as a man-maker, which usually brought him out to midfield, where he excelled.
A young player who possesses the character and ability to have a bright footballing future with club and county.
4: Ryan McAleenan (CPN)
The Warrenpoint defender may have taken a break from the inter-county scene but he didn’t display any loss of appetite for the game during the club championship. A tough tackler, fine reader of game with deceptive burst of pace, McAleenan was on the top of his game in opening weekend win over Kilcoo and he kept Burren’s Donal O’Hare and Clonduff’s Barry O’Hagan relatively quiet. Adaptable too because he was moved to mark different players in almost each game.
5: Lorcan Toal (Carryduff)
Lorcan Toal’s defensive stock rose this season with impressive defensive displays against Bryansford, Clonduff and Bredagh and he was one of Carryduff’s best performers in the final defeat to Kilcoo.
Not the biggest in stature but strong in the tackle and calm in the heat of the battle. His intelligent use of the ball kept the Duff on the front foot more times than not and he is a worthy Down senior club all-Star. His team-mate Declan Guinness was impressive too.
6: Paddy Murdock (CPN)
Alright, so technically Murdock didn’t wear the number six jersey, but he did play higher up the pitch than at the edge of the Warrenpoint square. He was the driving force from deep that gave his side the belief to that historic win over rivals Burren and his winning point in the war of attrition against Kilcoo, summed up his leadership. His influence was massive to CPN and he his return from injury will be a welcome addition to Paddy Tally’s Down.
7: Aaron Branagan (Kilcoo)
Aaron Branagan is one of two of his brotherhood to make this year’s team, if it was judged on the Ulster club or All-Ireland championship, then they would all be included.
Aaron makes the cut because from the quarter-finals onwards he was phenomenal. It’s no surprise as a personal trainer that he strong and athletic but the runs he made, attacks he sparked and his aggressive tackling in defence, made him a vital player in this championship winning team. Another player who could assist Down too.
8: Tom Close (Clonduff)
Close was one of the few players that hasn’t been approached by the county before that really stood out. An excellent midfielder who showed this season that he is great in the air, a fantastic distributor of the ball and a player who comfortably takes opponents on. And Close isn’t shy in front of the posts either with an average of two points per game. Lively, he covers a lot of ground and played a big part in Clonduff’s run to the last eight.
9: Dylan Ward (Kilcoo)
Many feel that Kilcoo only display their cutting edge when the championship becomes knockout and the Magpies certainly upped their performances this year as they blew Warrenpoint apart in the semi-final.
The spark that lit the touchpaper was Dylan Ward, he missed the opening rounds, but his return gave Kilcoo the dynamism they were missing. He was in command around the middle, but his acute attacking runs, and his smooth passing gave the Magpies that extra outlet. Carryduff’s Josh Connelly ran him close though.
10: Mark Walsh (Ballyholland Harps)
When the going gets tough then so does Mark Walsh, but he matches his work-rate with class and his performances were key in getting Ballyholland to back-to-back senior club semi-finals.
While young Ballyholland players such as Jack Murtagh and John McGovern showed that they have a bright future and that Ronan Murtagh still possess that Midas touch, it was Walsh who provided the platform to flourish with his direct running and range of passing. Team-mate Paul Murphy made the team last season and is unlucky to miss out.
11: Eugene Branagan (Kilcoo)
Eugene Branagan has been sensational this season. He has played in defence and attack this season and there was only one game where he didn’t score. Eugene has been a joy to watch because the fleet footed versatile footballer had a knack of popping up anywhere and everywhere and he picked off an array of points. He usually was the kicker at the end of Kilcoo’s overlapping or sweeping runs and at no point was he out-marked. Contender for player of the Down Senior Club Championship and ready made for inter-county football.
12: Ryan Johnston (Kilcoo)
Having missed much of the last couple the seasons with various injuries we got to see an injury free Ryan Johnston this year, although he was taken off in the final with hamstring concerns. Ryan was released from his half-back duties and flourished this season under manager Mickey Moran and coaches Conleith Gilligan and Paul Devlin. He is still fast, full of tricks, difficult to mark, brave in attack and it is great to see Ryan back to his best.
13: Jerome Johnston (Kilcoo)
Jerome Johnston is a player who excited the championship and he was in razor-sharp form. His thunderous goal with the last kick of the game against Mayobridge became almost a trademark as he bagged an impressive 4-14 during the campaign, to finish joint top-scorer. It’s incredible scoring and some of his angled points were a thing of beauty. He possesses the killer instinct and if he carries that form into the inter-county campaign then Down can go far this winter.
14: Seamus Loughran (Ballyholland)
The young Ballyholland footballer finished the championship with a total of 0-30 points, to finish joint top-scorer of the Down senior club championship along with Jerome Johnston. It is superb kicking from the 2018 Down club minor championship winner. It was his steady kicking that helped see off Loughinisland, after extra-time and Longstone, and while it didn’t all go his way against Carryduff, another game in Pairc Esler should stand to him. Loughran has a bright future.
15: Stephen McConville (Clonduff)
Stephen McConville was fantastic for the Yellas this season. He rattled up 2-15, much from play and he was the type of footballer who made things happen or who seemed to be able to lose his marker and become available.
Pacey and deceptively powerful he attacked with conviction and in a team that already has his brother Arthur and Barry O’Hagan among the forwards it was Stephen who stood out. Warrenpoint’s Ross McGarry (2-20) and Carryduff’s Ronan Beattie (2-14), were also in top form this championship.