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McAviney believes Ulster sides can thrive in 2015

By John Campbell

Ulster Council chairman Martin McAviney fired out a defiant message in relation to the current health of the GAA in the province when he addressed the Ulster GAA Writers' Association annual banquet at the weekend.

"I firmly believe that we have the best competitions and the best structures of all the provinces," declared McAviney. "We may not have the Sam Maguire Cup on show but there are numerous All-Ireland titles that have been captured by Ulster sides in different codes this year and that speaks for itself."

And McAviney believes that 2015 holds rich promise for Ulster.

"I think we are now in a position to build on the progress that has been made this year. There is a tremendous level of commitment in the province and I think that this will bring even further rewards next year," added McAviney.

And while awards of varying degrees were very much in vogue at the banquet, one player in particular had special cause to celebrate.

The honours have come thick and fast for Donegal full-back Neil McGee just lately even if the season failed to provide the biggest prize of all.

The north-west side may have been deprived of what would have been a second All-Ireland title in three years by Kerry but McGee's stunning impact on their performances during the course of their enthralling championship run has been reaping its own rewards.

His latest accolade was garnered when he carried off the coveted Footballer of the Year trophy at the writers' banquet and this coming on the heels of an All-Star, inclusion in a high-profile Ulster Select side and a Writers' Association monthly merit award for September means that the Gweedore clubman is finishing the year on a high.

Antrim sharpshooter Paul Shiels was the writers' choice as Hurler of the Year while ex-Donegal manager Jim McGuinness collected the Personality of the Year prize.

The prestigious chairman's award was bestowed on Anto Finnegan with writers' chief John Martin hailing the courage, dignity and determination that the former Antrim player has been showing in the face of adversity.

"He is a shining example of bravery and drive and we all admire him," said Martin.

And Martin urged sports followers to get behind the enterprising 'Match for Anto' at the Kingspan Stadium on Saturday week between Dublin and an Ulster XV, the proceeds of which will be used to help fund research into motor neurone disease.

Armagh's Caroline O'Hanlon was voted Ladies' Footballer of the Year, 20-year-old Tyrone handballer Johnny Woods lifted the Young Achiever of the Year award and veteran administrator Seamus Woods proved a popular winner of the Services to GAA honour. Tyrone manager Mickey Harte and Monaghan boss Malachy O'Rourke were among the numerous high-profile personalities at the banquet - the 27th such function to be held.

AWARD WINNERS: Footballer of the Year: Neil McGee (Donegal); Hurler of the Year: Paul Shiels (Antrim); Ladies Footballer of the Year; Caroline O'Hanlon (Armagh); Camogie Award: Megan Kerr (Derry); Culture Award: St Enda's, Omagh; Club of the Year; Truagh Gaels; Team of the Year: Donegal; Young Achiever: Johnny Woods (Tyrone handballer): Handball Award: Loughmacrory club, Tyrone: Personality of the Year; Jim McGuinness (Donegal); Services to GAA: Seamus Woods (Tyrone); Chairman's Award: Anto Finnegan.

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