Nine Cavan men get the nod in Brendan Crossan's Irish News Allstar picks

Thomas Galligan was one of Cavan's stand-out performers in 2020 Picture: Seamus Loughran
Thomas Galligan was one of Cavan's stand-out performers in 2020 Picture: Seamus Loughran

1 Raymond Galligan (Cavan & Lacken)

TERRY Hyland deserves a nod here as it was the former Cavan manager who believed his Lacken club-mate could better serve his county as a goalkeeper rather than an on-the-fringes outfield player.

Everyone will remember Galligan’s incredible winner in their opener against Monaghan, but when Cavan were hanging on by a thread in the first half of that game he made a string of brave saves. And he did the same when Down were in the ascendancy in the semi-final. Sensational year from start to finish.

2 Jason McLoughlin (Cavan & Shannon Gaels)

THE Shannon Gaels man has been around the inter-county scene for a few years now and has gone from being one of their sitting man-markers to a roving defender who is given licence to push forward and support the attack. He’s interpreted the role to good effect too. Apart from a ropey period on Jerome Johnston, the flame-haired defender had a fine campaign. Nothing flashy but adept at finding space and a great retainer of the ball. Deserves the nod here for the Ulster champions.

3 Padraig Faulkner (Cavan & Kingscourt)

DIDN’T know whether he was coming or going in that first half on Monaghan’s Conor McManus and was thankful the Farney men starved their star attacker for the rest of the game. Faulkner, though, proved his worth in Cavan’s other games. Made a brave block to deny Down’s Jerome Johnston in the semi-final and nullified Jamie Brennan in the Ulster final. Had the onerous job of shadowing Con O’Callaghan and did well.

4 Aidan Forker (Armagh & Maghery)

THE Maghery man can play anywhere and will be a seven or eight-out-of-10 every time. He had an exceptional game in Armagh’s win over Derry, schooling Niall Loughlin at Celtic Park by constantly pushing forward from his defensive position.

Against Donegal, he didn’t have the luxury of supporting the Armagh attack as his singular task was to stop Michael Murphy. Forker pulled off this daunting assignment superbly well and left Murphy a frustrated figure, even after the final whistle. Has worked exceptionally hard on his discipline over the last couple of seasons and he’s reaping the benefits.

5 Gerard Smith (Cavan & Lavey)

ONE of many Breffni men who came to the fore in that devastating second half and extra-time against Monaghan and just took off. Seen as one of the brightest attacking talents in the county at underage level, the Lavey man reverted to a wing-back role and was able to use his pace better from there.

Hit a wonderful late score against Monaghan and was a brilliant counter-attacking outlet. Had some great moments against Down and Donegal and can kiss goodbye to being on the fringes.

6 Ciaran Brady (Cavan & Arva)

WHEN Cavan were struggling against Antrim in the first half, it was the Arva man’s ability to find space as the spare man to bag a couple of crucial points to steady Mickey Graham’s men. One of the leaders of the team, Brady could be relied upon when the going got tough. Drove Cavan on in the second half against Down and kept the centre of the defence under lock and key in the final against Donegal. Cavan’s best player against Dublin too.

7 Caolan Mooney (Down & Rostrevor)

FOLLOWING in the footsteps of some of my colleagues here. Caolan Mooney is one of the last remaining free spirits in the county game. Absolutely electric when he decides to go. The Rostrevor man knows how good he is – and made light of his long-term absence by leading Down to victory over Fermanagh and was the one player who threatened to derail Cavan in the semi-finals with his line-breaking brilliance. There were a couple of contenders here but to leave out Mooney would be unjustified.

8 Thomas Galligan (Cavan & Lacken)

WHO’S the number 23? That was the refrain from the small band of reporters in Clones. Having recently recovered from Covid, the Cavan substitute was one the main reasons why Mickey Graham’s team came back from the dead against Monaghan.

Does the simple things so well and can step on the gas when the occasion demands it. Not as effective against Antrim but showed unbelievable resilience and skill in games against Down and Donegal. The Lacken man’s game reached outrageous heights and he must be in the running for player of the year too.

9 Michael McCann (Antrim & Cargin)

ANTRIM’S Ulster stay may have been short-lived but Michael McCann left an indelible impression on the provincial series with what was one of the best midfield displays you’ll see. Cavan won the game but they couldn’t handle the Cargin man.

Scored a brilliant first-half point that settled Antrim and caught balls in his own square and dictated all of Antrim’s play. His club manager Damian Cassidy describes McCann a Rolls Royce of a footballer. The Benjamin Button of the inter-county scene.

10 Ciaran Thompson (Donegal & Naomh Conaill)

WHEN Donegal were tearing Armagh to shreds in the semi-finals, nobody would have backed against Declan Bonner’s men going all the way. In many ways, Ciaran Thompson epitomizes what Donegal are about. Big, strong, mobile and can shoot.

What was so impressive about Thompson at Breffni that day was his appetite to track back and get a hand in. He was equally impressive in the win over Tyrone. If you were to manufacture the ideal footballer, he would look something like Thompson. A brilliant attitude to go with it.

11 Gearoid McKiernan (Cavan & Cavan Gaels)

THE big Cavan Gaels must be a shoo-in for the number 11 jersey. For a multitude of reasons.

The most compelling one was the resilience he showed throughout the season. Always one to get special attention from the opposition, the belief was, with the right man, you could mark McKiernan out of the game. But the towering centre-forward nailed that perception in 2020. Declan Lynch of Antrim put him under house arrest for a good portion of their game, but McKiernan emerged in the final quarter to see Cavan through. In the big moments, McKiernan was immense.

12 Pedar Mogan (Donegal & St Naul's)

CONFESSION time: On the far side of the field in the first half against Armagh, I thought Eoghan ‘Ban’ Gallagher was having a storming game – until I realized that it wasn’t Gallagher at all, but the fleet-footed Mogan who has the exactly replica of his team-mate’s gait and was absolutely everywhere.

Man-of-the-match that day, hitting 1-3 from play and posted a very astute performance against Tyrone too. Also one of Donegal’s brighter players in their final defeat to Cavan.

13 Oisin Kiernan (Cavan & Castlerahan)

YOU usually see a player’s true character when their team is losing. In the first half against Monaghan, Cavan looked like bowing out of the Championship with not so much as a whimper. Kiernan, though, was one of the few players who never stopped running and kept poking at the Monaghan back-line.

He also has a tremendous appetite for doing the ugly things really well, winning turnovers and tracking runners. It could be argued he was Cavan’s most consistent performer.

14 Conor Madden (Cavan & Gowna)

BOOM! That was the kind of loud, devil-may-care arrival the Gowna man made as a second-half substitute against Down at The Athletic Grounds. Every player that sits on a subs bench should be stung like Madden. As soon as he gained possession he made a dramatic impression, firing over three points in a devastating 35 minutes, as well as playing a key role in Cavan’s penalty award. Held in reserve for the final against Donegal and was brilliant again. Had good moments against Dublin too.

15 Paddy Cunningham (Antrim & Lamh Dhearg)

HERE’S the thing about Paddy Cunningham. He’s coming towards the end of his playing career, he mightn’t have a full 70-plus minutes in his legs, he can’t out-run his marker any longer and doesn’t have the mobility of five or six years ago. And yet.

Cunningham’s game is all about craft. You can’t coach the brain power the Lamh Dhearg man has. Lenny Harbinson’s decision to recall him after several years away was fully justified. The Cavan defence struggled with his movement throughout. Cute as a fox. Bit of a left-field choice but Cunningham is well worth a slot here.