Derry SFC Allstars: Seven-up for champions Slaughtneil
1. Antóin McMullan (Slaughtneil)
AN unbearably close call between the Slaughtneil number one and Magherafelt's Odhrán Lynch is settled by the fact that in the big moments in big games, McMullan was called upon and delivered. Huge save at the death against Glen, when he excelled beneath an aerial barrage, and then the big stop in injury-time to deny Antone McElhone a goal that would have taken the final to extra-time. Battled back from a serious injury to play, making the year even sweeter.
2. Paul McNeill (Slaughtneil)
MCNEILL too had missed last year with a bad shoulder injury but came back a vastly improved player who has filled out physically. As is the Slaughtneil way he played a variety of positions, all of them designed to pit him against a key threat on the opposite side. From the diligent man-marking jobs he did on Danny Tallon (Glen), Conor O'Neill (Ballinderry) and Shane Heavron (Magherafelt) to a series of lung-bursting runs that culminated in a goal against Ballinderry after he passed the entire pitch to get on the end of the counter-attack.
3. Brendan Rogers (Slaughtneil)
THE most respected defender in Derry club football going back at least five years, Rogers is an eternally consistent presence at the heart of Slaughtneil's defence. His performance in the final, when he locked down the threat of Emmett McGuckin, was typical of his season in that he would occasionally tear up the ground going into attack. To think that he's such an offensive weapon while playing at full-back is a mark of where he's at.
4. Conor McCluskey (Magherafelt)
ONE of the championship's most impressive performers, McCluskey seemed to grow with each passing game and became a huge factor in Magherafelt's game plan. Evolved from being tied down in man-marking jobs into a pacy, direct and quick-thinking wing-back. Did a fine job on Christopher Bradley in the final, having excelled against Swatragh in particular. Chipped in with scores too, winning a penalty against Swatragh and finding the net against Glen in the group stage.
5. Ethan Doherty (Glen)
CAUGHT the eye of Rory Gallagher sufficiently to earn a pre-championship call-up. He and his brother Jack on the other wing were the force that propelled Glen's attacking game from deep. Was excellent in the group stages. His willingness to drive straight at times combined with his pace makes him hard to defend against. Considering he was playing MacRory Cup football at the start of the year, he has huge potential.
6. Chrissy McKaigue (Slaughtneil)
THE performances of the Derry captain are the most scrutinised in the county and this season he turned in some of his best for the club in recent seasons. Took the final by the scruff of the neck, scoring twice early on as Slaughtneil assumed control that they never relented. Kept Ciaran McFaul very quiet in the semi-final, Gareth McKinless in the second half of the semi-final and dictated their play when Magherafelt largely left him free in the decider.
7. Conor Kearns (Magherafelt)
IN a Magherafelt team that has grown up so much over the last three years, none have been so important to them as Conor Kearns. After an outstanding 2019, he maintained his levels and ensured that when the Rossas needed him, he was the man to step up and drive them on. Seriously strong and direct, opposition teams almost always now send a defender to wing-forward to try and cope with him.
8. Connor Nevin (Ballinderry)
ASK anyone in Ballinderry about Connor Nevin and they'll have as good a word on him as they've had on any of the legendary players they've had through in the last 25 years. Strong, steady and reliable, Nevin dragged them up by the collar when they looked gone against Newbridge. Has settled into a permanent home around the middle after spells at full-back. One of those players that looks busted after every run, but is going twice as strong when he'd needed at the end of a game.
9. Jared Monaghan (Magherafelt)
THE simplistic view of what Jared Monaghan does for Magherafelt would lead you to believe he's a handy station post in front of their own goal. But he is so much more than just a sweeper. A hugely effective one he is, in terms of air and land, and Magherafelt have conceded just one ham-fisted goal in eight knockout games over the last two years. He's central to that. But just as last year, he's brilliant at picking a time for the run and making the most of it. Brilliant goal sparked life into the final.
10. Caolan Devlin (The Loup)
JUST as his elder brother Ciaran did when he broke on to the senior team, Caolan Devlin has made an immediate impact in the fledgling years of his senior days with the Loup. A classy left-footed playmaker, his ability to pick a pass has added a new dimension to his team's attacking play. Took 0-20 (0-8 from play) across the championship from a fairly deep role as well.
11. Christopher Bradley (Slaughtneil)
HAVING been the out-and-out delivery man for most of recent times, Bradley found himself in a more advanced position for a lot of this season and made the most of it. With Cormac O'Doherty sharing the playmaking load, it allowed ‘Sammy' to dip in and out of the full-forward line, where his scoring talents were better remembered. Superb against Glen, took a brilliant goal against Ballinderry as well.
12. JP Devlin (Ballinascreen)
FOR almost all of Benny Heron's time with Ballinascreen, they've been crying out for one more truly prolific forward that could run at teams and trouble them. JP Devlin may have arrived just in time. Tormented the Bellaghy defence in their first round knockout win and was the biggest threat to Ballinderry in a tight quarter-final where he scored 1-2. Just edges out the Shamrocks' Conor O'Neill.
13. Brian Cassidy (Slaughtneil)
THROUGH sheer force of what's around him, there's never been much credit left for Brian Cassidy by the time the rest have had their share. But he more than held his own in their attack, not least against Ballinderry, when the plan to double-mark Shane McGuigan was undermined by Cassidy's ability to comfortably win his own one-on-one battle inside. A consistent source of scores, he hit eight from play in the knockout stages.
14. Shane McGuigan (Slaughtneil)
THREATENING to be the closest thing to a truly prolific forward that Derry have had since Paddy Bradley, McGuigan came back from lockdown a different beast. Physically he's massively developed and in adding a right foot to his game, he has quickly become the best forward in the county by a stretch. His nine-point haul against Glen, seven from play, was a remarkable display. Hit 2-24, of which 2-17 was from play, in the knockout phase alone.
15. Shane Heavron (Magherafelt)
CARRIED the burden of providing Magherafelt with a sharp attacking outlet on his shoulders all year and did it with great patience and consistency. Heavron could have gone long spells without seeing a ball given his team's system but operating almost exclusively as a one-man full-forward line, he was hugely effective at getting off an accurate first-time shot under pressure. Some fine free-taking as well.