CALUM McIlwaine and Iarlaith Donaghy were earlier this week announced as the Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Players of the Year following an online vote facilitated by the Irish News.
Calum, a student in St Killian’s College Garron Tower, was the recipient of the season’s first Hurler of the Month award back in October following three impressive displays in the Danske Bank MacNamee Cup.
The diminutive midfield dynamo had played centre half forward in winning the 2018 MacNamee title and he then captained the squad that narrowly lost the final last Halloween to neighbours Cross and Passion Ballycastle.
The Oisin’s club player displayed excellent leadership qualities allied with a huge work rate that saw him cover every blade of grass, sweeping balls in the backline, fielding poc outs, winning breaking ball and having the engine to drive forward to pick off key scores as well. Calum scored 1-8 in the three games during October and almost single-handedly kept St Killian’s in with a chance of winning the final against Cross and Passion who were a stronger overall team.
By contrast footballer of the year Iarlaith Donaghy picked up his monthly award for February, the last award given before the shutdown, after being a key member of the St Pius X Magherafelt team that reached their first Danske Bank MacLarnon Cup final in 11 years.
Like Callum, Iarlaith captained his team and he turned in Player of the Match performances from centre-half back in both the quarter-final against St Columb’s Derry and then the semi-final against Loreto College Milford a fortnight later.
In both games he organised his defence brilliantly and drove forward to set up scores for the attack, even taking a point against St Columb’s.
This is the Lissan club player’s fourth season in MacLarnon Cup panels for St Pius X and he takes a leadership role even at training sessions when he regularly takes the warm-ups allowing the mentors time to set up their drills.
Players are initially nominated by the coach of opposing teams for a monthly award and this year’s five monthly award winners then went against each other in an online poll run over the past couple of weeks by the Irish News.
All ten Monthly Award winners had shown tremendous leadership qualities to gain their awards with Callum and Iarlaith then topping the voting for their codes.
Ulster Schools’ Chairman Jimmy Smith congratulated the two players on their awards:
“Heartiest congratulations to all our young players who made it to the final vote, and especially to Callum and Iarlaith on collecting these prestigious awards as our Hurling and Football Players of the Year.
“All of these young players produced outstanding displays during the year to win our monthly awards and this will hopefully be some recompense to Callum who missed out on a second medal in the MacNamee final!
“As regards Iarlaith and his school St Pius X Magherafelt, we in Ulster Schools’ Council are still hopeful that he will get the opportunity to add a MacLarnon medal to his collection.
“Ulster Schools’ Council and the individual schools that promote our games greatly appreciate the part the Irish News sports’ team as well as John Brolly play in promoting those games and we would like to place on record our appreciation to Danielle Baker, from our partners, Danske Bank, who has worked tirelessly in the advancement of our competitions and highlighting the accomplishments of our young players.”
Oonagh Murtagh, Head of South Business Centre at Danske Bank, said:
“I’m delighted to announce the 2020 Players of the Year, Callum McIlwaine and Iarlaith Donaghy – an achievement that should be cherished as they grow and develop in their sporting fields.
“The Player of the Month, and overall Player of the Year, initiative is a fantastic opportunity to celebrate the incredible skill across the province and across all age groups of players. The high standard of all nominees this year has blown me away – any one of the nominees would have been a worthy overall winner.
“It’s great to be able to recognise the effort and skill of all of these players, as well as the dedication shown by their coaches, families, clubs and teammates. Congratulations to you all.”