Selecting a winner of our Monthly Merit Award for March was akin to picking the winner of the Grand National. Sticking a pin in the runners’ list is as good a chance as any of coming up with the Aintree winner and last month’s GAA action was a bit similar.

Players like new Tyrone goalkeeper Niall Morgan, Red Hand ‘striker’ Stephen O’Neill, Donegal’s powerhouse leader Michael Murphy, Antrim hurling supremo Neil McManus, Monaghan score-grabber Cormac McManus and a number of others came under the spotlight last month so the harvest was rich.

However, we considered who the winner should be a little bit more in detail than sticking a pin in the list and, after the deliberations and election, STEPHEN O’NEILL came top of the poll to receive our March Merit Award.

John Martin, Stephen O’Neill and Kieran Kennedy fro O’Neills International Sports.

Kieran Kennedy with Stephen O’Neill at the presentation

With the closing stages of the National Football and Hurling Leagues, club and colleges’ championships, camogie and ladies’ football activity plus the closing stages in the All-Ireland 40x20 Handball Championships all on the menu we were spoiled for choice.

“That’s brilliant, I’m very pleased with the news,” enthused Stephen when told of his honour. “”It is lovely to get the award again for a month of such high activity. Tyrone has done quite well during March and reaching the league semi-finals is a big boost to us. Just the same as receiving the Monthly Merit Award is a big boost to me.”

The 32-year-old St Mary’s Killyclogher schoolteacher is no stranger to the podium. This is his fifth time to be the winner over an eight year-plus period. His first award was for January ’05 and that year he was also a winner for March and July. Next award arrived for January ’09 and now he has closed a four year gap again. Coming back so regularly proves the consistency of the Clan na Gael man.

In the final count, Stephen edged out Conor McManus and Niall Morgan to earn the award of the inscribed Belleek Living Vase, hand crafted silver cuff links from Omeath jeweller Garrett Mallon, training gear from O’Neill’s International Sports and a sports voucher from the UGAAWA.

By Tony McGee                     All photographs © Philip Fitzpatrick

Stephen with some members of the UGAAWA

Stephen is presented with special handmade cufflinks by Garrett Mallon, Mallon Jewellers, Omeath

Stephen with his Belleek Vase