If we’re to have any sort of championship action this year, then a knock-out system is the way to go. The later it goes on, the less time we have and a back door system will go on far too long at this rate. It just won’t work. And should we get football at some stage this year, then I’ll be chomping at the bit to see the nine following Ulster players show the rest of the country what they’ve got.
DARREN MCCURRY (TYRONE)
He’s hit the ground running this year. It’s been well documented that he wants to be the main man for Tyrone too. He wants to be the free-kick taker and I say ‘give it to him’ too. A couple of years ago, he had to pull out of the panel because of work commitments but he’s come back and he’s had an exceptional league campaign. He was particularly good against Kerry in the league. He’s been taking the big kicks and putting them over and I’m sure Mickey Harte will be very happy with that. For me, he’s going to be the standout player for Tyrone.
PADDY MCBREARTY (DONEGAL)
It’s an obvious one but he’s been Donegal’s go-to forward for me. He can score with both feet and when Donegal get the ball into him, he can cause all sort of problems. It also allows Michael Murphy to come out the field and it takes an awful lot of pressure off him too. And since that change, Murphy has always been looking to pick out McBrearty. They’re a class duo together and McBrearty is a defender’s nightmare because he never stands still. He’s a joy to watch and he’s a class act. On his day, he’s probably one of the best forwards in Ireland.
NIALL GRIMLEY (ARMAGH)
A massive midfielder at 6’3 and he has a massive presence for Armagh. One of his best games was against Kildare in the league this year on a night when conditions were very tough to play in. His fielding that day was exceptional and his running off the shoulder was superb as well. He’s a real hard hitter too and he’s another who’s not afraid to take the pressure kicks either. If he can stay fit, Armagh are in with a great chance of winning Ulster this year.
RORY BEGGAN (MONAGHAN)
Some people say that he’s taken over from Cluxton when it comes to goalkeepers scoring frees. His accuracy is excellent and he’s nailed on to score anything from inside 50 meters. He’s a massive part of Monaghan’s armour. The way the game has gone, you have to have a 10/10 free-taker or 45’ kicker and in Beggan, Monaghan have got just that.
CONOR BRADY (CAVAN)
He’s already won a Freshers All Ireland with DCU and he’s hit the ground running for Cavan. He’s an up and down, box to box player for Cavan and he’s just the type of midfielder that Cavan need. He links up with the full forward line very well and for me, he’s the player you need to be watching for Cavan this year.
CAOLAN MOONEY (DOWN)
He’s an exceptional player who’s had his fair share of injuries. I actually saw him play a bit of football in London with Neasden Gaels. Obviously, he played Aussie Rules a few years ago so he’s got that in his corner and his catching is a joy to watch. He knows what to do with the ball and he’s deceivingly fast. He’s yet to hit the ground running for Down in the championship but I think this could be his year. He’s just an exceptional talent.
SHANE MCGULLION (FERMANAGH)
He’s started every match so far this year for Fermanagh and he’s a very versatile player. Ideally, you’d like to see him play wing-back but he can play sweeper or even up in the forward line. He knows where the posts are but he’s not afraid to drop back or do a man-to-man marking job either. He’s marked a lot of danger man in club games so I’d expect this to happen at county level too. He’s going to be a big name for Fermanagh this year and Ryan McMenamin will want him to prove his worth.
CHRISSY MCKAIGUE (DERRY)
He’s got a great presence in the Derry team and his leadership is very important. In the last few years, he hasn’t really got a free run of it because of his involvement with Slaughtneil but he will this year for sure. He demands an awful lot of respect and he’s been popping up in the league and scoring points with ease. He’s plays full back for his club but he’s been playing half-back and midfield for Derry. He’s the type of player who pulls the rest of the team by the scruff of the neck and gets them to row in. The fact that he’ll be fresher this year too, he’s the one I’ll be watching in a Derry shirt.
PADDY CUNNINGHAM (ANTRIM)
There’s just a few of the older folk left on the Antrim panel and Paddy is one of them. He won the Antrim Championship with Lamh Dhearg and some might remember that final as it was the one which was decided by free kicks. It was all over social media. Some of his points in that championship were unreal and if the likes of ‘Gooch’ Cooper or either of the Brogans had scored them, they’d be the talk of the country. In the big games for Antrim this year, if they need an important score, he’s their man. He’s in there on merit and his experience is second to none.