Champions Armagh have been rewarded with seven inclusions in this year’s Irish News Ulster All Stars line-up for ladies gaelic football after claiming the provincial crown for a third season running.
Skipper Kelly Mallon, prolific forward Aimee Mackin and goalkeeper Anna Carr have now won Ulster All Stars in all three seasons since the inception of these awards while another trio of Orchard heroes have been honoured for a second time.
Full back Clodagh McCambridge and Crossmaglen’s Lauren McConville are among seven survivors from last season’s ceremonial line-up while Blaithin Mackin was part of the original Ulster All Stars team for the 2020 season.
The only first-time recipient from Armagh is long-serving Lissummon powerhouse Niamh Marley, who has been recognised for a good season in the orange jersey with inclusion at centre half back in a team unveiled during a glittering ceremony at the Ulster Hall in Belfast.
If the 30-year-old, who has been involved with the Armagh set-up since 2008, does stop playing county football to focus fully on her new ambition to play rugby for Ireland, then this honour will have been a satisfying footnote to a long Orchard career.
Armagh rightly lead the way with seven representatives followed by four for beaten provincial finalists Donegal, three from All Ireland Junior champions Antrim and one from Fermanagh, who the Saffrons defeated in the third tier final after a replay.
McCambridge is joined in the full back line by Antrim’s Aislinn McFarland and Donegal’s Niamh Carr, whose county captain Niamh McLaughlin is named at wing half back alongside Marley and McConville.
The midfield duo consists of Blaithin Mackin, currently lining out for Melbourne Demons in the AFLW, and Antrim’s Aine Tubridy, who becomes the first player other than Armagh ace Caroline O’Hanlon to be handed the No 9 jersey.
O’Hanlon is still a much better player than Tubridy but the Armagh woman unluckiest to miss out, for a second year running, is Dromintee dynamo Aoife McCoy, who has made the shortlist for the national All Stars along with Aimee Mackin, McConville and Anna Carr.
McCoy may have suffered from being considered as a full forward, with the formidable trio of Mallon, Aimee Mackin and Donegal’s Geraldine McLaughlin comprising the inside line in this team for a second consecutive season.
The half forward division, where McCoy won her only Ulster All Star to date for the 2020 season, consists of Antrim captain Cathy Carey, Donegal’s Niamh Hegarty and Blaithin Bogue of Fermanagh.
Although Armagh bowed out to eventual runners-up Kerry at the last eight stage of the All Ireland, all 15 starters from their dramatic Ulster showpiece win were shortlisted along with 11 players from Donegal.
Ulster Intermediate champions Tyrone and Antrim each received six nominations with four from Cavan, two from Fermanagh and one from Monaghan leaving Down and Derry as the only counties unrepresented.
Along with McCoy and O’Hanlon, who was one of only four players who made the team for both previous years, the other Armagh women shortlisted this time include 2020 recipients Grace Ferguson and Shauna Grey.
The unlucky Catherine Marley’s quest for an Ulster All Star continues but at least she was nominated this time along with fellow Orchard half forwards Eve Lavery and Niamh Coleman, all of whom missed out on a place on the long list two years ago.
Back then, Armagh got 12 nominations of whom only McCambridge, largely due to an administrative error, didn’t make a final line-up which included Sarah Marley, Tiarna Grimes and Aveen Donaldson Bellew.
In that first year, it appeared that the team was selected entirely based upon a public vote and the honourable Bellew was surprised to be honoured at midfield ahead of Monaghan captain Cora Courtney, who had won Player of the Match in that season’s Ulster final.
Since then, the organisers have reserved the right to make the final call on selection, with the public vote simply being taken into account, which would seem to be a more satisfactory formula.
Of course, as with any of these things, there will always be plenty of scope for debate and disagreement, not least around how success in lower tiers of the All Ireland Championships is weighted, but Armagh’s status as Ulster champions has been well recognised.