January 30, 2012
Anyone who goes out of their way to avoid the pre-season tournament has only themselves to blame when they are caught off guard by the emergent superstars and team dynamics which the competition always throws up.
In what was a more competitive campaign than ever before, we witnessed managers being separated, teams coming to blows, cat and mouse tactical battles, and hammer & tong football with typically staunch northerners refusing to lose. Come last Saturday night, we also saw Mickey Harte lift his first piece of silverware since the tragic loss of his daughter, and the first hints that Tyrone are back.
Below is my select 15 – the stand out candidates who caught the eye the most and who must be watched closely in the National League.
1. Shane McCormack (UUJ)
The Kildare net-minder had a magnificent group campaign with his college and was absolutely central to Jordanstown’s shock opening day victory over Ulster champions, Donegal. Being beaten just once in 3 games – by a fist into an open goal at that – Adrian McGuckin’s number one was the perfect obstacle in the last line of defence as he plucked from the sky and saved on the ground at will.
2. Brian McCallion (Derry)
McCallion was an ever-present for John Brennan in this tournament and has played every minute of intercounty football so far this year. He was the outstanding full back performer for the Oak Leafers in a period where Kevin McCloy and McGuckin announced their respective retirements and has yet to to be outplayed by what the rest of Ulster has to offer. Will this be the year of Championship football for the Greenlough man?
3. Liam Doyle (Down)
The Mourne centre half back is chosen at number three for his calming influence and rock-solid defending in a cup which saw McCartan’s men leak just one goal and severely restrict the opposition firepower. Derry’s Liam Morrow can count himself unlucky after a remarkably steady start to his life as a senior player at the heart of his side’s defence but Doyle just pips him to the post for THAT clearance to rescue top spot against St. Mary’s and he also chipped in with two points on their way to the semis.
4. PJ Quinn (Tyrone)
You only ever write Tyrone off at your peril and the marauding performances of players like PJ who can stick like glue at the back before bursting their lungs to get to the other 21 was all-too-reminiscent of the great Tyrone sides of last decade – and it was all-too-frustrating to watch as a Derry man.
5. Cathal McCarron (Tyrone)
McCarron was an instrumental cog in his manager’s wheel as Tyrone showed glimpses of once again perfecting their running game. 58% of Tyrone’s shots in the final came from the short hand-passing game and top performances like the Dromore man’s were required to link defence to attack time and time again as the Red Hands imposed their superiority over the rest of the province with 5 sweeping victories.
6. Dermot Carlin (Tyrone)
I don’t think you understand just how painful it is for me to include three Tyrone men on the trot – but such were their performances that they had to be included against all my wishes. Carlin starred in every position this term; be that on the inside line or at wing or centre back. Either way, he was disposing of forwards like they weren’t there and joined McCarron and Peter Harte in completing the ultimate half back performance in the final. Combining with McCarron to raise 3 white flags en route to silverware, Carlin was a shoe-in to be chosen.
7. Sean Leo McGoldrick (Derry)
Quite possibly, one of the most underrated players in the country at the moment. Ever since the start of last season, the Coleraine man has showed up for Derry matches week in, week out, puts in the most effective shifts, and goes home. Operating at left half back for the entire McKenna period, Sean Leo is one of the most dangerous players to have on the wing and he attracts possession like Paul Galvin does controversy. A comforting influence knowing he’s there to carry from defence each time, McGoldrick’s three appearances were once again astoundingly good.
8. Gearoid McKiernan (Cavan)
Cavan has woken. When Derry were drawn to play the winners of the 2012 Ulster preliminary tie, I wrote off Cavan and immediately began gearing up for Donegal. But now, I’m not so sure. Players like McKiernan have surfaced and are just about to start sending shockwaves across the country as their academy products will soon pay rich dividends. A real powerhouse player, Gearóid first caught my eye in the first week of January as he pierced through Derry’s defence with ease and kept us penned back in a game which should never have been won by the Oak Leafers. Scoring in every game – including 4 from play against their first championship obstacle – I genuinely cannot wait to see McKiernan in further action this year.
9. Michael Murphy (Tyrone)
Here we go again. Another explosive player who is about to make Tyrone pretenders to the throne once more. Deep runners are so hard to keep track off and Murphy’s 4 points, coupled with his domineering fielding attributes meant he was too outstanding to ignore. Awarded the man of the match performance in the decider at Armagh, Murphy was never going to be overlooked.
10. Diarmuid McNulty (UUJ)
My God, he’s good. For all my tactical exclamations, I’m not sure what you can do with this guy. When he starts running, you may as well give up in the same fashion you should when you see Paul Kerrigan and Darran O’Sullivan do the same – they won’t be caught. But when he’s not running, he’s tucking into midfield winning breaking balls or scanning the forward line to spray another pass from his spectrum of abilities. Again, another by-product spat out of the Tyrone conveyor belt, McNulty starred in all three of Jordanstown’s games – hitting 3 against Derry and finding the net twice in defeat to Cavan.
11. Mark Lynch (Derry)
To say Mark Lynch is “bullish” is to completely undermine every other attribute which he possesses and which makes him so damn deadly. Yes, he’s powerful, strong, solid – all the rest – but he’s got it all. He was first introduced this year to transform Derry’s fortunes against Cavan and he split the posts a total of 7 times in the McKenna Cup as he roamed to half back to turn over possession before pushing forward again to devastating effect. He was absolutely central to Derry’s attacking potencies and our analysis of the UUJ game demonstrated exactly how reliant the county are on the Banagher man.
12. Gerard O’Kane (Derry)
Of course, the very nature of the McKenna final changed with the bizarre sending off of Derry’s James Conway, but the losers would’ve coped much better had it not been for the eighth minute withdrawl of the injured Glenullin star. O’Kane, a natural half back, was being selected at half forward this year and was one of the main success stories of the tournament as he solidified Brennan’s defence before bombing back forward to link midfield with attack perfectly. He took to the number 12 shirt like a duck to water and tallied 5 points from play in the games he lined out at wing forward. Even plying his trade from centre back for the semi-final, Gerard had the scoring bug and was thriving all over the field.
13. Ronan O’Neill (Tyrone)
O’Neill, along with McNulty and Peter Hughes, are typical examples of the outrageous talent coming through the booming Tyrone underage system. Ronan O’Neill, all 19 years of him. surely deserves the most credit in the aftermath of the McKenna Cup having brought his tally to 3-10 despite scrapping for minutes from manager Mickey Harte. There are certain players who are destined for greatness and, in just 5 pre-season appearances, the Omagh man gave us a frightening insight to what the future holds.
14. Seamus Quigley (Fermanagh)
Having originally pin-pointed Derry’s Caileán O’Boyle for this berth, I had a reality check when I realised big Seamus found the net with every appearance this year. The burly Erneman also recorded a score of 1-08 on two separate occasions and, although there’s still a long way to go individually and as a county, it is exciting to see the return of a genuine goal-getter and an old-school target man who will give any defender their full of it.
15. Conleith Gilligan (Derry)
The Ballinderry man ended another productive McKenna campaign with a total of 1-13 for his county to add to what can only be described as some silky performances. A real livewire, Gilligan has come into this year seemingly months ahead of some of his counterparts and shone in all of Derry’s games. Asked to come on late against Cavan to help change the tide, Conleith duly obliged before Brennan decided to stick with him from then on out to help his side to a ninth straight McKenna Cup victory. He also tallied 3 in the final when others were struggling to even see the round ball. Business as usual for Conleith.This entry was posted in GAA. Bookmark the permalink. ← What Does Kaka Offer Real Madrid? – A Performance Analysis Derry vs Tyrone: How Red Card Changed the Game →