Irish News Ulster All Stars: Who were your standout female football players?

ANTRIM’s All-Ireland victory last weekend brought down the curtain on the women’s inter-county season, but the book is not closed as the Irish News Ulster GAA All Stars Women’s Football Team of the Year has yet to be chosen .

And it’s all in the hands of you, the reader; This is your chance to nominate the players you think have been the best for your country this season, who put themselves at risk for the jersey, who put in an extra inch of effort to try to make the difference to help their team win whatever coveted titles they see fit.

45 players have been nominated for 15 positions to get you started, but what’s unique about these Irish News GAA All Star Team of the Year awards is that you don’t just have to choose from the 45 nominees; they are simply a guide.

The Saffrons clinched their first All-Ireland title in ten years with a repeat win over Ulster side Fermanagh, helped by some impressive individual performances from Grainne McLaughlin and Lara Dahunsi. McLaughlin ended the game with a personal gain of eight points, five of them from play, while Dahunsi, the tie’s Player of the Match, made another massive shift in midfield for the Ulster champions, also scoring the game’s opening goal. These two Antrim players aren’t among the 45 to choose from, but if you don’t want them to miss out, you can still nominate them.

Picking just 45 of the province’s best players is by no means easy, and with three tiers of championship football even more players can shine among their peers, and those in the junior and intermediate levels train as hard and as often as the senior teams and have the same goals and goals – to win the silver award, to be the best at your level and to go to the next.

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I won’t be picking my top 15 – I’ll be sitting on the fence again this year – but here’s a quick reminder of what’s been going on this 2022 championship season.

Armagh completed three consecutive Ulster senior titles and their extra-time final win over Donegal will not be forgotten in a hurry. Orchard County needed captain Kelly Mallon to keep her nerve, to clear a late long distance to send the game into overtime and then, as the tick in overtime passed quickly and Donegal led by two, overcame Catherine Marley’s possession landed in Mallon’s hands and she fired past Roisin McCafferty into Donegal’s goals to seal a sensational comeback victory. Donegal’s Geraldine McLaughlin also recorded an incredible 1-11 on the day and still ended up on the losing side.

However, it was Donegal who became the last Ulster senior team in the All-Ireland series to reach the semi-finals, losing to defending champions Meath. It might not have been their day but they were led by captain Niamh McLaughlin who has been an exceptional presence for Maxi Curran’s side all year. Armagh was eliminated in the quarterfinals, Cavan survived a relegation scare but Monaghan lost his status as a 30-year-old senior.

There was similar drama in the Ulster junior final when defending champions Antrim hit back at half-time against Fermanagh, seven points down, to defend the title by a slender margin. That day there was a shoot-out between Erne-Star Eimear Smyth and Orlaith Prenter – Smyth ended with 10 points and Prenter with 1-6.

Smyth finished second in the running for the Golden Boot Award – the award given to the top scorer at the TG4 All-Ireland Championships. She finished with a 5-27 record from Fermanagh’s games in which they lost the All-Ireland final to Antrim in last weekend’s replay and was the only Ulster player in the top 10. Derry also took part in the Junior Championship but had had a difficult season that ended without wins.

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In the interim championship, Tyrone had an Ulster Finals win over Down with their captain Niamh O’Neill exceptional all year, going 1-4 and Chloe McCaffrey taking six points. Tyrone reached the All-Ireland Quarterfinals while Down failed to advance through the group stage.

If you don’t want your favorite players to miss out, you can now have your say and vote for this year’s Ulster Ladies Football Team of the Year. Don’t forget you also have the chance to choose your Ulster Women’s Footballer of the Year from your 15.

* This year’s Irish News Ulster All Star Awards will be presented at a glittering ceremony at the Ulster Hall in Belfast on 30th September. 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.

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