Antrim hurler named as Ulster GAA writers association Monthly merit award winner.

Hurling doesn’t often figure often in the Ulster GAA writers association Monthly Merit Awards but it does this time.

Antrim goalkeeper Chris O’Connell made camán fans sit up and take notice the length and breath of Ireland with his spectacular displays in the Walsh Cup, particularly his stunning half-dozen saves against Westmeath.

“I can’t take all the credit for those saves” protests the Loughgiel man. “The defence played its part, too. Goalkeepers can’t do it all on their own and the cover I have been getting has been very good.”

O’Connell (28) is probably the only county ‘keeper in Ireland who isn’t entirely sure of his club place. He has to fight for that with former Antrim custodian DD Quinn. Both vying for the Loughgiel Shamrocks’ No.1 jersey.

“I suppose the situation is giving our manager a few headaches but it is a good position to be in. DD is a super ‘keeper who served Antrim very well for many years before he opted out of the county scene. I had to wait for my chance to play for Antrim,” recalls O’Connell who has been in the squad for around 10 years.

Awards don’t come often for Antrim hurlers and the Belfast-based Freight International Forwarder is delighted to be honoured with the Quinn Building Products-UGAAWA Merit Award for January.

“It is a great honour for myself and my family,” he enthuses. “It is surely much appreciated  and it gives me great confidence. It is a good boost, now, at the start of the league. We got off to a winning star against London but we will take one game at a time, as the saying goes, but we won’t fear anybody.”

Chris doesn’t completely confine his sporting talents to hurling as he also plays a little golf, at Galgorm Castle, when time permits. “It may be stretching it a bit saying that I play golf but I do try from time to time,” he says.

It used to be that GAA outdoor action, during the early months of the year, was pretty slim but not any more.

Last month, there was the Dr McKenna Cup in Ulster and Antrim hurlers were involved in the Walsh Cup, in Leinster. Slaughtneil camógs showed the way to their footballers by winning their All-Ireland Club semi-final and there were club All-Ireland semis in football and hurling plus Sigerson and Fitzgibbon Cup action, as well.

Tyrone completing a six-in-a-row McKenna Cup successes, a tribute to the managerial skills of Mickey Harte, while his nephew Peter was the outstanding player of the tournament. However, Chris O’Connell emerged as the winner of the Monthly Merit Award and was presented with his trophies of an engraved Belleek Living Vase, training gear from O’Neill International Sport, specially designed Silver Cuff Links from Carlingford Design House and a medical kit bag from 3FiveTwo on behalf of Kingsbridge Private Hospital.

The presentation was made to the winner, at a reception in Quinn’s Corner, by Seamus McMahon, Quinn Building Products Sales and Marketing Director.