Pick anyone from half-a-dozen or more and you could come up with a person worthy of being our MONTHLY MERIT AWARD winner for August 2013. In football, hurling and ladies’ football there were a number of candidates that few close followers of the sport could argue about.

But only one person can get the award and, after the usual presentations were made and argued about, STEPHEN McAFEE topped the poll and it’s the Ballycastle hurler who gets the August honour.

The 20-year-old UUJ undergraduate was outstanding in Antrim’s historic success in the All-Ireland Under-21 Championship semi-final, against Wexford. Playing in the unusual role of centre-forward he wore the No 11 jersey with distinction and contributed 1-4 of the Saffrons’ winning total of 2-15. His early goal set Antrim on the way to making history

Stephen McAfee (left) receiving the UGAAWA Merit Award trophy from UGAAWA chairman John Martin. Picture by John McIlwaine.

The Ulster team is the first northern side to reach the All-Ireland Under-21 final and marketing student Stephen revels in the victory.

“It is great to be part of history as it is not every day that happens,” enthuses the Antrim leader in attack. “We went into the game as underdogs, just the same as we will be in the final against Clare, so that made the win even sweeter. Now to get the GAA Writers’ award is super. Thanks very much for honouring me with it.”

That shock early score, as the Wexford ‘keeper let a long distance lob from McAfee drop out of his hand was even a surprise to the scorer.  “I was certainly surprised when the flag was raised. However, you take every bit of luck that comes your way.”

Some of his points were true class, too, like the one from midfield at the start of the second half. His overall performance was enough to tip the scales in his favour for this award. Nominated, too, and very much in the mix, were Monaghan’s Catriona McConnell, Tyrone senior Sean Cavanagh and Red Hand minor Conor McKenna.

As usual, the monthly winner receives an engraved Belleek Living vase, Garrett Mallon engraved silver cuff links, training gear from O’Neill’s International Sports, an UGAAWA sports voucher, two tickets and overnight accommodation for the annual UGAAWA banquet. It will be held this year at the Great Northern Hotel, Bundoran, on Friday, November 15.

All photographs are © John McIlwaine