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Ulster's trio of shining Stars take their seats at top table

Elite roles: Cathal McShane
Elite roles: Cathal McShane
Michael Murphy
Ronan McNamee
John Campbell

By John Campbell

It may not have been the most lucrative year for Ulster on the inter-county front but nonetheless individual talent continues to flourish in the province.

And this is certainly reflected in the composition of the PwC All-Stars football team.

Two Tyrone players, Ronan McNamee and Cathal McShane, are each honoured with their first All-Star awards, while Donegal's Michael Murphy picks up his third.

Not surprisingly, the team is peppered with Dublin names headed by their skipper Stephen Cluxton, who picks up his sixth award, while wing-back James McCarthy and midfield dynamo Brian Fenton capture their fourth honours.

Joining McNamee and McShane in scooping their inaugural awards are Patrick Durcan (Mayo), Sean O'Shea (Kerry) and Tom O'Sullivan (Kerry).

McNamee and McShane were the essence of consistency in a Tyrone side that was beaten by Donegal in the semi-final of the Ulster Championship before losing to Kerry at the penultimate stage of the All-Ireland Championship.

Over the course of the year, Tyrone played 22 games in all and both McNamee and McShane seldom if ever put a foot wrong, the former restricting opposing forward lines in terms of scores and the latter totting up a magnificent 3-49 in a sustained display of Championship marksmanship that elevated him to a new high.

McNamee's stoic resolve, razor-sharp tackling and smart covering saw him emerge as one of the leading defenders in the game, while McShane's ability to land scores from frees and play while operating for the greater part of the term as a one-man forward line marked him down as a truly outstanding performer.

And if Donegal flattered to deceive in the run-in to the All-Ireland Championship after retaining their Ulster title, then Murphy's towering contribution to their cause never wavered.

Not only did Murphy's inspirational leadership galvanise the side particularly on occasions when they were feeling the heat, but his inherent ability to pot points from all angles and distances underpinned the team's overall Championship itinerary.

Few will quibble, too, with the recognition afforded to UUJ student Patrick Durcan. He might wear the colours of Mayo but Durcan rendered fine service to his university and his great-hearted attitude has won him many admirers.

To the surprise of no one, seven Dublin players are included with Paul Mannion and Con O'Callaghan duly rewarded for their scintillating performances in attack over the course of the year, while Fenton's midfield authority ensured that he was certain of an All-Star just as Brian Howard's versatility and energy carried him into the pantheon of truly outstanding players.

Four Kerry players are recognised in the line-up, an indication of their team's progress.

Defender O'Sullivan carried himself superbly over the course of the season, David Moran was a midfield colossus in helping to take the side into the All-Ireland final, O'Shea is on the cusp of a glittering career and David Clifford continues to unveil the talent that makes him extra-special.

From time to time the All-Star selectors tend to come under fire when their decisions raise hackles but this time round they have come up with would appear to be truly representative of the elite performers of 2019.

Meanwhile, Derrygonnelly Harps host what they feel is their biggest assignment to date in the Ulster Club Championship when they confront Tyrone neighbours Trillick tomorrow at Brewster Park, Enniskillen (2.30pm).

Harps enter the fray buoyed by their fifth Fermanagh senior title on the trot but aware that Trillick's form in winning the Tyrone title was impressive.

The Derrygonnelly outfit may boast only two wins in the Ulster Club series to date but midfield ace Stephen McGullion believes that their recent preliminary round win over Cargin will stand his side in good stead.

"I think the fact that we have that win under our belts will send us into this game with a bit of a spring in our step," said McGullion.

And Naomh Conaill have scarcely had time to draw breath after Wednesday night's Donegal final triumph over Gaoth Dobhair at the third time of asking before they go into action against Cavan champions Castlerahan at Kingspan Breffni tomorrow (2.30pm).

Naomh Conaill have certainly expended huge energy in getting this far but they would appear to be up for battle.

That's hardly surprising since experienced battle-hardened warriors such as Leo McLoone and Anthony Thompson continue to fulfil key roles within their side.

Belfast Telegraph

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