Double Delight at Ladies All-Stars

November 10, 2014

Richard Bullick

There was double delight for south Armagh on Saturday night with Carrickcruppen’s Caroline O’Hanlon and Mairead Tennyson from Silverbridge both claiming ladies football All Stars at the Dublin banquet.

To put the icing on the cake, legendary Armagh captain O’Hanlon has been officially crowned Ireland’s leading lady of gaelic football after scooping the sport’s top player prize at the All Star awards dinner at the Citywest Hotel.

The majestic midfielder predictably netted her the third All Star of a glittering career before being unveiled as All-Ireland Players’ Player of the Year and receiving a thunderous standing ovation from over 800 guests.

That rounded off a wonderful evening for the Orchard County which also saw Silverbridge livewire Tennyson scoop a well-merited first All Star at corner back eight years after her previous nomination as a wing forward.

Apart from All-Ireland champions Cork and beaten finalists Dublin, Armagh were the only county to get more than one All-Star this year with All Ireland Intermediate champions Down, beaten Ulster finalists Monaghan and Laois having one player each in the final line-up.

By being honoured along with Tennyson, O’Hanlon still accounts for half of the All-Stars which have ever been won by Armagh, with her fellow 30-year-old becoming the fourth Orchard recipient alongside the current captain, vice-captain Caoimhe Morgan and former skipper Bronagh O’Donnell.

O’Hanlon’s third All-Star was widely expected but Tennyson undoubtedly deserves the No 2 jersey after a specularly successful conversion to corner back over the past 12 months with a series of outstanding displays in the Orchard rearguard.

Clann Eireann’s Sinead McCleary and Fionnuala McKenna of Armagh Harps went home empty-handed this time but both thoroughly deserved to at least make the shortlist on the back of typically excellent contributions to the Orchard cause in 2014.

Armagh had won 13 out of 13 matches this season until beaten by champions Cork in the All-Ireland semi having already lifted the NFL Division Three and Ulster Championship trophies along the way.

They were wonderfully led by the incomparable O’Hanlon who somehow seemed to hit fresh heights this year in spite of juggling gaelic with a first season in netball’s British SuperLeague and starring at the Commonwealth Games for Northern Ireland.

Thriving with the responsibility of her first season as official Orchard captain, Caroline pulled the strings superbly for James Daly’s side and contributed the impressive personal tally of 15-38 in her 12 matches from midfield.

She hit the net at least once in all but two of her Armagh matches and her superlative performances clearly impressed fellow county players from across the country who voted her their All-Ireland Ladies Footballer of the Year.

Peer recognition is particularly prized in any sport so although O’Hanlon has won numerous awards in a much-decorated career this was a very special evening and a great achievement considering there are over 120,000 registered ladies gaelic footballers in Ireland.

The Daisy Hill Hospital doctor is the first winner not from Cork since the inception of this award in 2011 with her three predecessors all leading lights in the line-up of the team which has won the All Ireland in each of the four seasons.

She saw off the heavyweight challenge of Cork full back Angela Walsh and Galway skipper Sinead Burke to take the prestigious title on top of the Ulster Ladies Footballer of the Year and GAA Writers Ladies Footballer of the Year awards won in recent weeks.

Walsh was one of six Cork players who received 2014 All Stars along with captain Briege Corkery – who picked up a camogie equivalent seven days earlier – Brid Stack, Geraldine O’Flynn, Ciara O’Sullivan and newcomer Vera Foley.

Beaten All-Ireland finalists Dublin, who were on the receiving end of that dramatic Cork comeback in Croke Park, have the consolation of four All-Stars, skipper Sinead Goldrick joined by forwards Noelle Healy, Lyndsey Davey and Sinead Aherne.

Galway were unlucky to miss out altogether, particularly with captain Burke being shortlisted for Player of the Year, with Laois goalkeeper Ciamh Dolland, Monaghan half forward Cora Courtney included in a line-up completed by Down’s Aileen Pyers who got the No 15 jersey.

Pyers made a significant contribution to Down’s Intermediate All-Ireland win but along with county colleague Kyla Trainor lost out to Caroline Little from beaten finalist Fermanagh for second tier Player of the Year.

Four of the 12 Ulster nominees received All-Stars with Pyers’ Annaclone clubmate Eliza Downey, Tyrone captain Gemma Begley and Monaghan goalkeeper Linda Martin among those overlooked on this occasion.