1. Raymond Galligan
Cavan | Lacken
ONE of the great goalkeeping seasons, the difference was that Raymond Galligan had the platform to confirm what many observers already knew about him. Made huge saves in every one of Cavan’s five games. Kept them in the game against Monaghan and then won it for them with that famous monster free. Then produced the match-winning stop from Jamie Brennan in the Ulster final, in which he was The Irish News’ man of the match. Unpicked the Dublin press with a series of brilliant kickouts and kept their hopes alive with a fine stop with his foot from Niall Scully towards half-time.
2. Stephen McMenamin
Donegal | Red Hugh’s
HIS short winter had a significant impact on the shortening of Donegal’s. Held Darragh Canavan scoreless in his debut championship half and then even more impressively took Conor McKenna to task after the break, going toe-to-toe in a physical battle that the Red Hughs defender relishes. He was a key link to their hopes of Ulster and All-Ireland glory and the hamstring injury he suffered going for the first ball against Armagh undermined the Tír Chonaill defence badly. Those 70 minutes he did play were sufficient to earn a spot.
3. Padraig Faulkner
Cavan | Kingscourt
PUTTING nine on his back for the Monaghan game fooled no-one. Straight in to full-back and although Conor McManus gave him a tough first half, Faulkner squared up and made himself the rock on which Cavan’s title-winning defence was built. Made a crucial, brilliant and brave goal-saving block on Jerome Johnston just as the comeback was starting against Down. Kept Jamie Brennan scoreless with a superb display in the Ulster final and did about as much as many could have with Con O’Callaghan given the chasm between the teams.
4. Aidan Forker
Armagh | Maghery
SHOWED what he can still do as a forward during the club championship but come October it was back to the home that has now become familiar in the orange of his county. Aidan Forker has become the most unlikely, and most reliable, of man-markers for Kieran McGeeney. Had a fierce battle with Niall Loughlin that he edged on account of his willingness to sap Loughlin’s energy by taking him the length of the field. Forker scored 0-2 himself that day. Kept Michael Murphy on a very tight leash in Breffni and was one of very, very few to emerge with credit.
5. Gerard Smith
Cavan | Lavey
MADE a real home for himself in Cavan’s half-back line and became one of the principle outlets for their counter-attacking play. First really caught the eye with his stunning late score off the outside of his right boot against Monaghan, and went on to turn in a series of solid displays. Hit a fine early point in the Ulster final win over Donegal and while his defensive work was notable, it was his attraction to breaking ball and the directness of his attacking that stood out.
6. Ciaran Brady
Cavan | Arva
IF anyone was ever going to typify a Cavan resistance against Dublin then it would be Ciaran Brady. The direct fearlessness with which he ran at the All-Ireland champions gave everyone around him such belief. That’s what he’d been doing all throughout an outstanding season. Led them out of the trenches against Antrim with two great points, going on to score in every game from that day on. Operated in a series of roles but mostly as the free man in their defence, a job he did to perfection.
7. Caolan Mooney
Down | Rostrevor
IT had been a long eight-and-a-half months out for Caolan Mooney, who wasn’t likely to feature in this year’s championship had it gone ahead on schedule. The winter gave him respite and opportunity, which he utilised to good effect. Sliced the Fermanagh defence wide open with his searing pace to set up the game’s decisive goal and did the same twice for Cavan, only for his own shot to be stopped and Conor Poland’s to be missed too. Restored to the half-back line, he looked as threatening as he has in a few years.
8. Thomas Galligan
Cavan | Lacken
THE man who turned a county’s fortunes by turning games. Few players had the impact that Thomas Galligan had on this year’s championship, from any of the four provinces. Led the fightbacks against Monaghan and Down, massively influential in the second half against Antrim and, in a different role, tormented Donegal when he operated largely off the edge of the square. Ended up a bit lost in there against Dublin as Cavan couldn’t get him any supply, but his impact on 2020 will live long in the memory.
9. Michael McCann
Antrim | Cargin
THE 35-year-old midfielder’s return to inter-county football had been stunted by lockdown and when he didn’t play in Wicklow and only came on against Waterford, you weren’t sure what impact he’d have. But the Cargin man displayed every bit of his class as he completely ran the game for Antrim against Cavan. Dictated their whole approach to the game and every time the ball came their way, it seemed to be McCann on it. Brilliant point off his left foot, his was just an outstanding performance.
10. Michael Langan
Donegal | St Michael’s
CARRIED his good finish to the league into the championship and for probably the first time in Donegal colours, Langan really stood out above the crowd this year. Became a major platform for the team around midfield and he threw in 1-6 from play as well. Was the outstanding player on the pitch in their win over Tyrone in Ballybofey, his goal fashioned by others but still needed Langan’s rocket finish to beat Niall Morgan. Hit 1-2 that day and another three from play against Armagh, a game in which he ran them ragged. His quieter final was in keeping with the whole Donegal side.
11. Gearoid McKiernan
Cavan | Cavan Gaels
THERE just seemed a different work ethic about Gearoid McKiernan this year. While he scored three crucial points from play against Monaghan and two late efforts that saw out the win over Antrim, his lack of another white flag from play over the other three games didn’t undermine his performances. Had huge moments in the midfield area, most notably in aiding the turnaround against Down from ten points behind, but it was the number of turnovers inside his own 45’ – not least a brilliant one on Brian Fenton – that marked out the difference in him.
12. Peadar Mogan
Donegal | St Naul’s
DONEGAL’S under-20 captain in 2019, Mogan always had the pace but seems to have added half-a-stone of muscle over the last 12 months and that propelled him to a level that allowed him to make the impact he did this winter. Was able to cut through the heavy grass and leave men for dead. Operated rotating between wing-back and wing-forward. A fine debut against Tyrone, when he set up the goal, before a man-of-the-match display against Armagh in which he hit 1-2, the goal a superb score. Carried their first-half performance in the final too.
13. Oisin Kiernan
Cavan | Castlerahan
WHILE there were plenty who rose up and dipped down across Cavan’s five-game sojourn into the All-Ireland semi-final, Kiernan was the mark of consistency. He returned 0-7 from play, scoring two points against each of Antrim, Donegal and Dublin, and will long be remembered for the brilliant score from out wide that nudged them ahead late in the Ulster final before Madden’s goal. But Kiernan also brought a ferocious workrate and his nullification of Daniel Guinness in the second half against Down perhaps summed his contribution up as well as anything.
14. Conor Madden
Cavan | Gowna
WASN’T fit for either of their two opening games and only came on at half-time against Down, but the effect he had on Cavan’s championship campaign was so pronounced that the lack of minutes can’t count against him. Three superb points in a terrorising display against Down led to the man-of-the-match gong. He was held in reserve again for the final but fate intervened to get him in early and they couldn’t take him off again. Two points and then the goal that sealed it left his mark. One brilliant score off Michael Fitzsimons against Dublin too.
15. Jerome Johnston
Down | Kilcoo
THE Kilcoo man stepped up to the plate for Down and carried the burden of being their chief score-getter in a campaign that looked destined for an Ulster final before the second half malfunction in the semi-final. Took him a while to shake Jonny Cassidy in Brewster but he got two vital points, and was almost unplayable in the first half against Cavan, taking the normally leech-like Jason McLoughlin for four points from play, a couple of them superb efforts from the wrong side for his left foot.