Derry and Armagh to dominate defence and attack in Ulster Men's Football Allstars
THE less said, the better.
Normally that's about avoiding negativity, but in this context here's what I mean: some players are so outstanding you don't have to make a case for their inclusion in any 'best of' selection.
Derry captain Chrissy McKaigue, for example. Ironically, his game is largely negative, stopping a key opposition attacker from performing effectively, but the Slaughtneil man sacrificed himself superbly for his team. He averaged 7.8 in our ratings.
His Oak Leaf and club colleague Brendan Rogers was even better, averaging 8.3, despite Damien Comer's two goals off him in the All-Ireland semi-final. Rogers was absolutely brilliant in Ulster, dominating Donegal captain in the Ulster Final, and is another shoo-in.
So too should be yet another Derryman, Conor McCluskey, who averaged a rating of 8 and was the Ulster champs' best player on the penultimate stage, holding Shane Walsh scoreless from play.
A fourth Oak Leafer is strongly in the mix too: Conor Doherty. Very good in Ulster, notably with a 'man of the match' display against Tyrone, he understandably found the going tougher on the All-Ireland stage but still averaged 7.1. Such was Derry's defensive strength, Padraig McGrogan is on our shortlist too; he averaged 6.9.
The other leading contenders have to come from Armagh, Donegal, and Cavan.
The Orchardmen recovered from a disappointing display against Donegal in Ulster, bouncing back brilliantly to impressively see off Tyrone and gain revenge on the Tir Chonaill men before only losing out to Galway on penalties.
Jarly Og Burns has plenty of backers, and was excellent against the Red Hands, but only averages 6.625, the same as his Armagh team-mate Aaron McKay. James Morgan and Aidan Forker both emerged with average IN ratings of 7 but the Orchard back who most impressed this writer was young Conor O'Neill; not selected in Ulster, he came in and earned marks of 6.7, 7, and 8, showing an intelligence and assurance on the ball which bodes well for Armagh's future.
Greg McCabe was a centre half-back in the mould of his manager Kieran McGeeney, and his red card against Galway wasn't decisive, but he didn't make the cut for the the nine half-back slots.
Donegal were a mixed bag: although they saw off Armagh and Cavan, they then lost to Derry and to Armagh in the qualifiers, shipping 3-17 in that ultimate exit. Best for them at the back was Eoghan 'Ban' Gallagher, averaging 7, while Brendan McCole and Caolan Ward both averaged 6.75.
Padraig Faulkener would be my pick of the Cavan picks, but Jason McLoughlin and Killian Clarke were the names on the shortlist; as for other counties, Monaghan's versatile Ryan McAnespie was their stand-out player.
However, Derry should dominate, with Armagh and perhaps one Donegal man alongside them in this year's Ul-Stars defence.
THIS year's Ul-Star attack is likely to be an Armagh-Derry combination, with Donegal stalwart Michael Murphy and Cavan's Gearoid McKiernan the only others making serious cases for inclusion.
Two of the full-forwards appear to be certs – Armagh's Rian O'Neill, who's pushing hard for 'Player of the Year' – and Derry's Shane McGuigan.
The latter has actually achieved the highest rating among all the forwards, an average of 8.2 for the Slaughtneil man, but with so many Derry contenders overall the Oak Leaf vote may get split for the top award.
Still, he's a no-brainer, as should be young Ethan Doherty, perpetual motion for Derry, consistently very good, and an assist machine throughout – right to the very end, setting up the consolation goal against Galway. The Glen lad averaged 7.6.
Benny Heron blew hot or cold on the scoreboard but his tally of 3-3, especially his goals against Monaghan, was important to the Derry cause. Gave his all to become the face/ masks of the Oak Leaf summer.
O'Neill is actually 'first among equals' among Armagh attackers, at least in terms of our ratings. The versatile Crossmaglen man totalled 29 across his four outings, averaging 7.25, as did Rory Grugan and Stefan 'Soupy' Campbell.
O'Neill was 'Man of the Match' in Armagh's destruction of Donegal, with Campbell earning that accolade against Tyrone; Grugan was the most consistent of the trio, with three 7.5 ratings, and one 6.5.
Their Orchard County colleagues Aidan Nugent and Jason Duffy are also in the mix, with tallies of 27 and 27.5 respectively.
Murphy averaged 7.25, with a 'MotM' 8.5 against Cavan in the Ulster semi-final, but was less effective against Derry and then Armagh second time around. Peadar Mogan is probably Donegal's other forward in contention, with impressive displays against Cavan and Derry, but he failed to spark against Armagh, especially in the re-match.
Cavan's McKiernan rated 8 against Antrim and then 7 against Donegal; involvement in the Tailteann Cup, even though reaching the final, probably counts a little against any Breffnimen.
Tyrone's Conor Meyler and Darren McCurry merit honourable mentions in a horrible Championship for the Red Hands, as does Monaghan's Jack McCarron, but the choices surely have to a 'DAD's Army', from Derry, Armagh, and Donegal.
* This year's Irish News Ulster GAA All-Star Awards will be presented at a glittering ceremony at the Ulster Hall in Belfast on Friday September 30. The awards are supported by our sponsors O'Neills Sportswear, Millar McCall Wylie, Spar, Options IT, Kingsbridge Private Hospital Group, and the Canal Court Hotel.