Dunloy, Ballymena

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Unit Updates 2018 Team of the Year

After careful consideration and taking into account the poll results, here is the eagerly anticipated Unit Updates 2018 Team of the Year.

Disclaimer: Like the beleaguered referee, I can only give what I see so all selections are based on games I've attended. You can find a list of all the nominees here.

Cúl Báire | Goalkeeper

Known as 'Sticks', McDermott has had a fine season between them. He helped Banagher to an Ulster IFC Semi-Final, conceding only two championship goals along the way, one coming in the dying embers of the county final and the other against Mullahoran, where he also gave an exhibition in shot-stopping, playing his part in a real thriller of a game.

Na Cúlaithe | Defence

One of two Toner brothers on the team, Aidan was a consistent performer throughout the championship, his strong running and ability to break a tackle one of the few glimmers of light from their opening encounter with St Canice's. Toner's displays saw Lavey reach a county final where they finally succumbed to an experienced Eoghan Rua.

Named Player of the Championship by the County Derry Post, McGoldrick was almost an automatic choice at full back. His point decided the replay against Slaughtneil and he produced a tour-de-force in the county final to see his side clinch their second Derry SFC crown.

Epitomising the modern corner back, Daly's distinctive blonde head appeared as often on the opposition 21m line as it did on his own. The Portstewart man netted the important goal in the Final to give his side an advantage and arrived at just the right time for crucial scores throughout the season.

McGill was a key cog in the Lavey game plan and covered a lot of miles going up and down the pitch. His goal in the Semi-Final against Glen saw Erin's Own take control of the match and steer their way to a county final appearance.

A rising star in Kevin Lynch's, Mullan featured at both Senior and Minor level in 2018 and in the Derry SHC Semi-Final, hit 1-09, his late free almost snatching a draw against holders Slaughtneil. Ruthless from placed balls, Mullan led from centre back for the Minors as they clinched back-to-back Ulster Minor Hurling titles.

His season ended with a painful knee injury sustained against Ballycran in the Ulster SHC Final, and Graffin was well on his way to Man of the Match in that particular game when he went down. Fine performances throughout the Antrim championship, including a solid marking job on the lively James McNaughton sees him claim his slot at half back.

Lár na Páirce | Midfield

He was Antrim's stand out player throughout their Joe McDonagh campaign and the Ulster Hurler of the Year is well worth his spot in our Team of the Year. A rip-roaring performance in the Antrim final under the watchful eye of Buff Egan was followed by another sensational outing in Armagh in the Ulster Final.

Described by manager Damian Cassidy as a Rolls Royce player, McCann's consistency was key for Cargin in a season where they had plenty of upheaval personnel-wise. His winner in the county final was well-deserved as he drove his side on and he was instrumental in the second half comeback against eventual champions Gaoth Dobhair in the Ulster SFC.

Na Tosaithe | Attack

The metronomic heartbeat of a potent Naomh Éanna attack, Eastwood was almost omnipresent at times this season. Often dropping deep to conduct attacking moves, the Hightown man also showed composure and accuracy from frees and even managed a number of goal-line clearances and timely interceptions at the back.

The cutting edge of the Loughgiel attack, McNaughton has been simply outstanding in 2018, making the breakthrough with both club and county. His sublime accuracy from frees was a key factor in their championship victory over rivals Dunloy and despite being well-shackled by Arron Graffin in the county final, he still managed to have an influence on the game with a superb point near the end.

The lightning to Lavey's defensive thunder, Toner had a simply electric championship campaign. Firing home 2-04 against the Loup in their entertaining replay encounter, he troubled every defence with his pacy and powerful running and claims his place in our half forward line.

Moore grew into the season as it progressed and by the time championship came round he was right on the boil, leading opposition corner backs on a merry dance time and time again. His brace of goals in the Ulster IFC clash with Belnaleck ended their threat and he picked off a number of scores throughout Banagher's Ulster campaign. Ended the season in historic fashion by taking part in the free-taking fiasco against Mullahoran.

Like his club-mate Richie Mullan, Tiarnan McHugh featured at both Minor and Senior level in 2018, managing to register a point in the SHC Semi-Final defeat to Slaughtneil. It was his outstanding performance in the Ulster Minor final that caught the eye though, as he hit 1-05 from play to clinch back-to-back titles for his club. Disappointed to miss out on a Colleges All-Star, McHugh makes our selection at 14.

Under the cosh in the Derry SFC replay against holders Slaughtneil, Eoghan Rua needed someone to take the game by the proverbial scruff of the neck and McGoldrick stepped up. The corner forward's incessant work-rate and tidy finishing kept his side in the game and laid the foundations for brother Liam to nail the late winner. Consistent.

Réalta an Todhchaí | Future Stars

Unfortunate not to make the final fifteen, Cassidy's season is not yet over as he has spearheaded Bellaghy Minor's Ulster Tournament campaign. The Tones have a New Year's date with Crossmaglen and their full forward's pace, strength and trickery is a key aspect of their potency. Having already tasted championship action with the Senior side, Cassidy should be a big player for Wolfe Tones in 2019.

At the heart of Cushendun's run to the Ulster JHC Final with his accuracy from placed balls and passing in midfield, McHugh was so often the fulcrum of the Emmet's attack. A minor in 2017, McHugh featured prominently for the county U21 side and made the breakthrough to the Senior county panel in their recent Kehoe Cup victory over Wicklow. He will lead his club into next season's Antrim IHC.

Jamie Gribbin has had an excellent breakthrough season for Erin's Own and was central to the Cargin comeback against Gaoth Dobhair before injury forced him off. Gribbin has thrived under the tutelage of Damian Cassidy and his energy and work-rate in the half-forward line are essential to their game.

Bainisteoir na Bliana | Manager of the Year

Cushendun finally ended their run of final losses in the Antrim JHC and came within a whisker of clinching an Ulster title in their last-gasp defeat to Castleblayney. However, back in June it took a late, late show against Rasharkin to see them into the top six in Division 3 and spark their season into life.

Dornan had the Emmet's playing a crisp, passing game that saw them rack up some high scores, and his man management gelled the team together well, getting superb performances from the likes of Conor McHugh, Conleth McNeill and David Kilgore.

Cluiche na Bliana | Game of the Year

A number of contenders for this particular accolade.

The replayed Derry SFC clash between The Loup and Lavey immediately springs to mind as both teams attacked each other with venom. Likewise the replay between Eoghan Rua and Slaughtneil was absorbing and compelling in its drama.

Both games between Ruairí Óg and St John's in the Antrim SHC had superb drama as both games ebbed and flowed, while Dunloy and Loughgiel Minors served up two outstanding games in the final and subsequent replay.

However, the Ulster IFC Semi-Final between St Mary's Banagher and Mullahoran was an epic encounter. A shot-stopping masterclass from Sticks McDermott, Enda O'Reilly rattling over scores for fun, Peter Hagan jinking through to equalise at the end of the second round of extra time, this game had everything.

It even served up some history, as the teams were subjected to the cruelty of the first ever free-taking competition to decide the outcome. Neither team deserved to lose and the wider GAA family deserved to be treated to another sitting of the heart, skill and determination on show at the Athletic Grounds that evening.

Taispeántas Aonair na Bliana | Individual Performance of the Year

Niall Toner's 2-04 for Lavey against The Loup was a strong contender here, as wereNeil McManus' displays in the Antrim and Ulster SHC finals, but it's James O'Connell of Clooney Gaels who takes the award.

O'Connell hit an astounding 2-13 in his side's IHC opener, blowing away a St Brigid's Cloughmills side who spent the league in the division above. The Biddies tried three different men on him, but to no avail as the free-scoring corner forward took the Man of the Match award.

Taispeántas Foirne na Bliana | Team Performance of the Year

Lavey's Derry SFC Semi-Final performance against Glen was in contention but it's the dethroning of dominant Derry champions Slaughtneil that gets the nod.

With the holders well on top in the first half, the Coleraine men had to rally to weather the onslaught and in Ciaran McGoldrick they had a man well capable of shouldering the burden.

Trailing by four at the break, the North Derry side produced a huge second-half performance to see the sides level in the final minutes, before Liam McGoldrick's moment of magic finally decided the tie and avoided the dreaded extra time.

Eachtra na Bliana | Moment of the Year

One thing 2018 was not short on was drama. Cushendun ending their run of county final defeats was a superb moment, encapsulated by a gleeful RJ McQuillan leaping into the Ballycastle air in delight.

Naomh Éanna also gave us some great moments on the way to their maiden Antrim championship success and subsequent Ulster title, Joe Maskey's goal in the final against Mullahoran in particular setting the pulse racing.

A more bizarre moment came in the Derry SHC Semi-Final between Slaughtneil and Kevin Lynch Hurling Club. Time seemed to stand still as the ball lay untouched 30 yards from goal before Odhran McKeever eventually lifted it and put it between the posts.

This accolade however goes to Odhran McMullan of Loughgiel, whose late point from distance in the first Antrim MHC Final levelled the tie and crowned a Man of the Match performance from the young centre back.

Coming against their four-in-a-row chasing fiercest rivals, Dunloy, in the dying moments of the match with the Cúchullain's bench ready to celebrate, it gets the nod for sheer drama and timing... even if it did ruin my Kenneth Wolstenholme moment on Twitter.

So that's that. What a year it's been. Here's to another year of quality local GAA in Antrim and Derry!

Áthbhliain faoi mhaoise daoibh!