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The Big Ball-X Ulster Club Championship Awards

Whilst sobriety may still be in question around North Belfast and the Donegal hills, the dust has now settled on the Ulster Club Football Championships for 2018. Ball-X takes a look at this year’s big performers!!!

Ok. So it might be Ball-X’s first Ulster Club series. And yes, we may have even got a little over-excited at times, but, f*ck me, what a couple of months it’s been.

From Michael Moore’s opening whistle in Kildallon on a Saturday afternoon in mid October, right through to Noel Mooney’s final blast after 80 minutes of slog in Healy Park on Sunday, the 2018 edition has given us quite a ride.

And whilst trophy cabinets in Killygordon, Glengormley and Gweedore begin to feel the strain, we know that many are still awaiting to hear if the biggest prize is yet to come.

Yes ladies and gentlemen, it’s the first, and probably the last Big Ball-X Ulster Club Championship Awards. So without any further slabberin’, we’ll throw-in to the opening award…


THE BIG BALL-X AWARD FOR BEST TEAM PERFORMANCE

Nominations

  • RED HUGHS v Emyvale, Junior Championship Semi-Final, November 4th
  • BANAGHER v MULLAHORAN, Intermediate Championship Semi-Final, November 17th
  • GAOTH DOBHAIR v Crossmaglen, Senior Championship Semi-Final, November 18th

 

And the winner is…

We started with an easy one, here. A night on which, anyone in attendance, can tell friends, kids and anyone who’ll listen for years to come, that they were there.

Despite Aodh Rua’s Lazarus-like second-half revival against much fancied Emyvale in the Junior Semi, or Gaoth Dobhair’s green-flag glut against Cross en route to Sunday’s historic victory over Scotstown, this year’s award will be shared between Intermediate sides Banagher and Mullahoran.

Gavin O'Neill, Banager GAC
Gavin O’Neill ended up on the losing side in the Speechless Saturday battle Credit: Banagher GAA

It certainly wasn’t a game that produced sparkling football, we can tell you that for free. Mistakes and nerves played a huge part in Armagh a fortnight past, last Saturday. But more to the fore, and what will live long in the memory for anyone lucky enough to bear witness, was the Herculean effort put on by the near 50 men on show that evening.

Ninety minutes. Extra-time on extra-time. And, countless bodies strewn across the Athletic Grounds sod, wasn’t enough to separate Enda Muldoon and Seanie Smith’s two sides, and so, to an Ulster Championship first. Far from popular on the night, and with the benefit of hindsight, plain and simply wrong, but alas, the dreaded tie-breaker. A free-kick competition to decide who would claim a place in the Intermediate final. In the end, heartbreak for the Sperrin men, as Cormac O’Reilly split the posts with the Dreadnoughts fifth and final effort, giving the Cavan champions an unassailable 5-3 victory.

We don’t pay enough attention to the rules at Ball-X to know if the Ulster Council’s hands were tied that night, and replaying the match may well have been out-of-the-question. But, whilst not getting a second opportunity to see the two sides go to war on a different day, paying patrons were given a lesson in parish pride. By Christ, what a game!

The Big Ball-X Award for Best Team Performance is shared by BANAGHER & MULLAHORAN


THE BIG BALL-X AWARD FOR REFEREE OF THE SERIES

Anyone that knows the author of this piece will know, and at times may even have had to try to douse, the usual negative feeling towards figures of GAA authority, both on and off the pitch.

But, in a sport where the standard of refereeing can sometimes be nothing short of farcical, it’s important to recognise, that by and large, refereeing throughout the Ulster Club series has been of a higher than average standard. At least, the author certainly wasn’t shaking his head as much as he normally does.

One performance that must be applauded, in particular, is that of Noel Mooney in the Senior decider between Gaoth Dobhair and Scotstown.

Refereeing an Ulster Senior Club Football Championship Final, is a daunting task at the best of times, but having stepped out of the car in Healy Park at lunchtime on Sunday afternoon, the Cavan Gaels man must have had half a mind in turning around for home.

In atrocious conditions, Mooney was able to let, what could have been a terrible game to watch, develop into a pretty decent contest, by resisting the urge of becoming whistle-happy. He used that thing, so often overlooked by those in roles of GAA officialdom – his head!

In what could be the shrewdest call of the year, and under untold pressure no doubt, he correctly chalked off Michael Carroll’s sure-winner, at the end of normal time, having been one of the few to spot Odhrán Ferry’s thrown pass. In extra-time, he made the brave, but correct call again in dismissing Shane Carey for swinging the fist in the tackle.

On a day as big as that, the best one can usually expect is to hope the referee goes unnoticed, but the Breffni man went one step further. He added to the game. Having failed to cause any major talking points in this Autumn’s earlier Intermediate quarter-final between Banagher and Glenfin, despite having big calls to make early on, we are happy to announce that….

The Big Ball-X Award for Referee of the Series goes to NOEL MOONEY


THE BIG BALL-X AWARD FOR MANAGER OF THE SERIES

Nominations

  • MERVYN O’DONNELL (Gaoth Dobhair)
  • FRANK FITZSIMMONS (Naomh Éanna)
  • SEOSAMH MAC CEALLABHUÍ (Red Hughs)

And the winner is….

In what has been a glorious campaign for all three of these men, it is extremely tough to split hairs to determine who deserves this prestigious and highly sought after accolade.

Seosamh Mac Ceallabhuí returned to Killygordon this season, to complete unfinished business with Red Hughs, having left The Cross to pit his wits in Monaghan with Truagh Gaels. And the Glenties man delivered, finally bringing home the Donegal Junior Championship, having being beaten finalists in three of the previous four years. The provincial series, described by Mac Ceallabhuí as “bonus territory” (a term that deserves it’s own award as Most Used Phrase in an Interview), began with a win over Con Magee’s of Glenravel, before overcoming Ryan McAnespie and Emyvale in that pulsating semi-final only a week later. Celtic Park was the venue for a decider with Limavady Wolfhounds, and despite the presence of AFL bound, Callum Brown in the opposing midfield, Mac Ceallabhuí orchestrated a fine two-point victory in the final.

Former Antrim supremo Fitzsimmons had a different sort of job on his hands when he took up the reins on the Hightown Road, this time last year. Naomh Éanna, having just been promoted to Division One in Antrim for the first time in God-Only-Knows, had a young side that needed care as they continued to ripen. Safety secured by the time they met Gort Na Mona in an all-Belfast, Antrim Intermediate Final, the Glengormley side left Corrigan Park with silverware that day, before returning to the Whiterock Road venue for their first foray at senior level into provincial competition, when they defeated Doohamlet of Monaghan. Tattyreagh St. Patrick’s looked a formidable task in the semis, but his young side showed maturity well beyond their years to deal with a 45 minute delay to throw-in and overturn a late two-point deficit, to reach Saturday night’s decider against Mullahoran. In truth, class told at the weekend, and the McCully Cup made it’s way to Glengormley.

Mervyn O’Donnell and his all conquering Gaoth Dobhair side. Credit: Facebook / CLG Ghaoth Dobhair

Mervyn O’Donnell, too, only undertook his role with Gaoth Dobhair at the start of the season, with one thing firmly on his remit. So often, eyes turned to the heavens when Gaoth Dobhair’s name was mentioned over recent years – O’Donnell was tasked with turning a team of perennial under-achievers into a force. There’s no doubt he had a big advantage in having the Ulster U-21 Club Champions at his disposal, as Tom ‘Beag’ Gillespie guided the Machaire Gathlán starlets to success at the Creggan Kickhams tournament in February. But, O’Donnell’s side rampaged through the Donegal championship, smashing eight goals past Realt Na Mara and three past Sean Mac Cumhaills before gliding past Glenties in the county final. It was in Ulster, however, that O’Donnell’s men really excelled, slaying two giants en route to the claiming the MacFerran Cup, in the shape of Crossmaglen and Scotstown.

Amazing glories achieved in so many differing contexts, but given the sheer enormity of becoming Ulster Senior Club Champions for the first time…

The Big Ball-X Award for Manager of the Series goes to MERVYN O’DONNELL


THE BIG BALL-X AWARD FOR PLAYER OF THE JUNIOR CHAMPIONSHIP

Honourable Mentions

  • BRANDON O’BRIEN (Limavady Wolfhounds)
  • DAVID McALLISTER (Emyvale)
  • EDDIE COURTNEY (Aghadrumsee)

It’s been a wonderful year for all of the above, with O’Brien coming to the fore with goal scoring, ‘super sub’ performances that fired Limavady to the Celtic Park decider against Red Hughs. McAllister was a central part of Emyvale’s tilt at capturing a third provincial title at Junior level, whilst Fermanagh ace, Courtney, was the star man in fellow beaten semi-finalists, Aghadrumsee’s push in Ulster.

And the winner is…

  • CALVIN BRADLEY (Red Hughs)

The burly forward was immense for Seosamh Mac Cellabhuí during the unexpected run to Ulster majesty. Notching three points from play in the decider, the most telling of his contributions throughout the provincial campaign, surely came in the semi-final win over Emyvale, where the former Finn Harps soccer player and member of the Irish Army, hauled his side back into the game with a game-turning goal. He would compliment that, with another five points on a night when the Killygordon outfit could well have seen themselves out of the competition, and so, a deserved winner.


THE BIG BALL-X AWARD FOR  PLAYER OF THE INTERMEDIATE CHAMPIONSHIP

Honourable Mentions

  • TIERNAN MOORE (Banagher)
  • RUAIRI SCOTT (Naomh Éanna)
  • ENDA O’REILLY (Mullahoran)

Possibly the hardest award to judge, given the quality of this year’s tournament, with half the Naomh Éanna team, alone, worthy nominees. Scott bagged himself a well worked goal in the Glengormley side’s win over Doohamlet in the quarters and was a constant thorn in opposition sides in his centre-forward role against Tattyreagh and Mullahoran. For the latter, Enda O’Reilly proved instrumental in his sides run to the Intermediate final, especially from dead balls, and in Tiernan Moore, Banagher, and Derry, have a young forward with immense potential on their hands.

And the winner is…

  • JAMES McAULEY (Naomh Éanna)
Captain James McAuley and Odhrán Eastwood were pivotal in St. Enda’s domination of the Intermediate Championship. Credit: Jaes McAuley

Probably no surprise to many Ball-X followers, but the lad just oozes class.  An absolute rock for Fitzsimmons at centre back, and has that knack of being in the right place at the right time so often. A model of consistency, his reading of the game and distribution have been unparalleled at the Intermediate level, and showed all the hallmarks of leadership, stepping forward late in the game against Tattyreagh to land a monster game-levelling score. A real modesty about him too. If Lenny Harbinson can’t find a place for the 22 year-old Queen’s student in his Antrim team this year, then we may give the whole thing up.


THE BIG BALL-X AWARD FOR PLAYER OF THE SENIOR CHAMPIONSHIP

Honourable Mentions

  • COLM McGOLDRICK (Coleraine)
  • DÁIRE Ó BAOILL (Gaoth Dobhair)
  • SHANE CAREY (Scotstown)

Winning the whole damn thing, and scoring a hat-trick against Cross in the semi-final wasn’t enough to earn Dáire Ó Baoill the prize, but the big man put in three immense performances around the centre-field for Gaoth Dobhair, particularly when Kieran Gillespie’s early injury compounded Odhrán Mac Niallais’ absence in Corrigan Park against Cargin. Anyone looking for a lesson in how to spearhead an attack, has to get out and see Colm McGoldrick in the flesh. The full-forward tormented Castlerahan in the quarters, grabbing two first half-goals, and gave Scotstown’s Emmett Caulfield the run around in Healy Park, despite ultimately ending up on the losing side that day. A key factor in that, was Shane Carey. The Monaghan wizard tallied three points in the victory over McGoldrick’s Eoghan Rua side, adding to personal hauls of three points against Derrygonnelly and five points against Burren in the previous rounds. His place-kicking proved vital again in the final, as he bagged six in total on a horridly wet day in Omagh, and, despite being deservedly sent-off in extra-time, can count himself unlucky to not have a much coveted Ulster Club winners medal.

And the winner is…

  • KEVIN CASSIDY (Gaoth Dobhair)

What more is there left to say. 36 years of age, and absolutely on the top of his game. Has looked so fit, so sharp and so hungry as his side claimed an historic first Ulster Club title, and in doing so, Cass may have put to bed any demons that lingered from infamously missing out on All-Ireland glory with Donegal six summers ago. His experience throughout the campaign, along with the likes of Neil and Eamon McGee, have helped given a steadfastness for the Gealtacht men’s more precocious talents to thrive. But to pigeon hole the man as an enabler, would be to do him an injustice. He’s everything to that team. Firestarter; which we saw to such devastating effect against Cargin. Peacemaker; ensuring that referee Noel Mooney wasn’t harangued in the aftermath of disallowing Michael Carroll’s last-kick-of-the-game score in normal time on Sunday. Screw turner; bursting into in the ten minutes after Johnny Hanratty’s red card in the semi against Cross, to put the tie to bed. What. A. Player. An All-Ireland series to come, and far from us to even hint at retirement, but if it is to be his last year, then surely it has to be one of the greatest bow outs that Ulster Football has ever seen.


THE BIG BALL-X BIGGEST SET OF BOLLOCKS AWARD

Final award goes to a young man who has probably done a fair bit of suffering over the past couple of weeks, but should be recognised for having a massive set of balls on him.

Niall Moore, not only played at corner-forward for Banagher, in that breathless, once-in-a-lifetime, semi-final epic, but volunteered to kick one of the fateful five free-kicks in the sudden-death shootout.

Ill-fortune had to fall on someone, and cruelly it fell upon the St Mary’s youngster. An awful way to end what should have been a memorable night for all participants involved in Armagh.

It mightn’t mean much to him, but Niall, you have Ball-X’s BIG RESPECT, as well as no doubt countless others, and we look forward to reading, hearing and writing a lot more about you as you go on in your football career.

The Big Ball-X Biggest Set of Bollocks Award goes to NIALL MOORE


And, that’s that! Provincial club championship action over for 2018!

Rest assured Ball-X will be back covering the All-Ireland runs of Red Hughs, Naomh Éanna and Gaoth Dobhair.

Red Hughs will be first in action, as they face Edinburgh side Dunedin Connolly’s in the All-Ireland  Junior Quarter-Final in Leterkenny this Sunday. The Naomh Éanna lads will enjoy the festive break, before tackling Galway’s Spiddal in the All-Ireland Intermediate semis in the New Year. And Senior kingpins Gaoth Dobhair, have whetted everyone’s appetite, by drawing Galway giants, reigning and three times All-Ireland champions, Corofin, in a huge semi-clash, scheduled for February 16th.

The entertainment, just does not stop!

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