Monday 25 September 2017

Twenty with plenty to prove in 2014

Not everyone will carry fond memories from, arguably, the greatest championship season in GAA history, so who will be the men chasing something better this year? Vincent Hogan selects 10 hurlers and 10 footballers who will look to have a much bigger say this year

Joe Canning
Joe Canning
Tipperary sharpshooter Lar Corbett
Kilkenny's Walter Walsh takes on Dublin goalkeeper Gary Maguire
Clare youngster Darach Honan
Kilkenny legend Henry Shefflin
Armagh's Jamie Clarke
Kerry footballer Kieran Donaghy
Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

The Hurlers



THE most gifted hurler of his generation was denied (perhaps harshly) even an All Star nomination after his county's wretched meltdown in 2013. Canning brought the fight magnificently to Dublin when others went missing in the Leinster final but was too easily marginalised by Clare in the All-Ireland quarter-final. Now made captain by Anthony Cunningham, Canning's hopes of crowning his county career with a Celtic Cross seem to be reaching a critical juncture.



Glimpses of the old goal-poaching genius were returning in Nowlan Park in July before a hamstring pull ended Lar's (and essentially Tipp's) season. After his three-month exile in 2012 was followed by that pantomime coursing of Tommy Walsh in a bizarre semi-final, Corbett would have hoped for a great deal more from 2013, particularly with Eamon O'Shea at the helm. Debatable how much more he has left in the tank, but his well-being will be vital to Tipp's this year.



Probably among the best three young hurlers in Ireland, Hannon suffered a collapse of confidence in the All-Ireland semi-final against Clare. That single bad day denied him an All Star nomination but Hannon is good enough to become a giant of the game over the next decade, should Limerick continue to provide sufficient opportunities. Likely to be one of Donal O'Grady and TJ Ryan's pet projects in 2014.



Suffering the agony of omission from Clare's team for the All-Ireland final replay against Cork, Honan then watched his replacement do that Roy of the Rovers impression, Shane O'Donnell hitting a scarcely credible 3-3. His senior career has been chronically curtailed by injury but, on his day, the big Clonlara man can look virtually unplayable. Came off the bench to score the clinching goal in that All-Ireland replay, but will feel his senior career with Clare has yet to reach full lift-off.



Tipperary's captain in 2013, McGrath could not find a semblance of his best form to allow to him lead by example. The Ballinahinch man, an All Star in '08, was replaced in the National League final against Kilkenny as well as Tipp's two championship games against Limerick and Kilkenny. Still only 29, the 2010 All-Ireland winner faces a real battle just to make Eamon O'Shea's team in 2014.



We had all but forgotten about this county U-21 star until the Sixmilebridge man came bolting clear in the build-up to Honan's clinching All-Ireland final replay goal. Morey started in Clare's Munster championship opener against Waterford, but was replaced and did not make the cut again all year. If Davy Fitz now plans to revitalise his champions in 2014, it will be a surprise if the versatile Morey doesn't feature prominently.



One horror-day blighted what had been a decent year for the hugely respected O'Neill, his direct opponents (O'Donnell, then Honan) responsible for 4-3 from play in the All-Ireland final replay. O'Neill was lucky not to see red cards for incidents in the All-Ireland quarter-final against Kilkenny and drawn final against Clare, but is acknowledged as one of the most intelligent defenders around. Will not be short of motivation in 2014.



A nightmare, injury-scarred 2013 for perhaps the greatest hurler of them all. What had seemed an innocuous foot injury sustained on club duty the previous December turned into a marathon stretch of convalescence for Shefflin, his year further marred by a bout of pneumonia. The tin hat was then put on his annus horribilis when he was sent off for two yellow cards (one since rescinded) as Kilkenny were evicted from the championship by Cork.



Those who see what he can do in Dublin training are still waiting for the Cuala man to truly explode on the inter-county scene. Injury has been a huge part of that story for a player who scored three goals on his National League debut against Tipp in '09. Showed flashes in 2013, particularly with a man-of-the-match display against Wexford and that kicked goal against Cork, but Treacy is a man still truly to ignite in the Dublin jersey.



Plucked by Brian Cody from the county's U-21 panel to win a man of the match award in the 2012 All-Ireland final replay against Galway, a combination of injury and uneven form prevented Walsh from maintaining anything like that career trajectory last year. Cody will be looking for a big season from young Walter now, no doubt reminding him that one-year wonders sit well down the food-chain in Kilkenny hurling.



Facing into his fifth inter-county season since returning from the AFL, Begley has never really kicked on to the level anticipated by so many people in Laois. Justin McNulty did not seem to get the best out of a player who looks equipped with all the physical and technical attributes to be a top inter-county footballer. Still not quite sure whether he is a midfielder or half-back. Over to Tomas O Flatharta for the answer.



One of the finest attacking wing-backs in Gaelic football, Bradshaw was captain for Galway's 17-point annihilation by Mayo in May. Sent off that day, he promptly removed himself from the panel and flew to America, where he would spend the remainder of the summer. Now back in the fold, he will surely not lack motivation for the coming season.



The 2011 Footballer of the Year did not kick a ball for the Dubs during their All-Ireland charge last season because of injury. Back playing with Oliver Plunketts since, he has now been challenged by Jim Gavin to show inter-county form if he hopes to regain his place in a panel dripping with blue-chip forward talent. Brogan faces a battle, but his character is scarcely in doubt.



The wonderfully talented Clarke divides opinion wildly in Armagh, where some regard him as the finest attacker the county has produced whilst others question his resilience for the hard days. Skinned some of the weaker defences during Armagh's trek down the qualifier route last year but was held scoreless in defeats by Cavan and Galway. Clarke's travel-lust meant he missed Crossmaglen's county and Ulster Championship campaigns. Remains Footballer of the Year potential, but only if he truly wants it.



Another man with Australian connections, Coney spent five and a half weeks with the Sydney Swans in '08 before deciding that an inter-county career with Tyrone was what he really coveted. Looked a potential superstar when shooting the lights out for Tyrone minors en route to All-Ireland glory in '08, but a cruciate injury cruelly interrupted his progress. Now struggling to meet that early potential. Will he become another Raymond Mulgrew?



Donaghy has slipped increasingly to the periphery of Kerry's story in recent times, although his siting at wing-forward in the 2011 All-Ireland final did offer a compelling early target for Kerry kick-outs. Debatable whether his inter-county future now is as the kind of full-forward who won Footballer of the Year in '06, as a high-fetching midfielder or as a uniquely dangerous impact sub. Hasn't been a focal point for the team of late and Donaghy will be driven to change that.



Debatable whether Johnston's inter-county days are over after cutting his ties with Kildare. Seanie's switch to the Lilywhites failed on just about every level and, in hindsight, may have proved a hindrance to Kieran McGeeney's management of the team. In Johnston's absence, meanwhile, Cavan began to look a force again for the first time in years. Now back with Cavan Gaels, it remains a moot point if he will be seen back in the county blue as well.



One of the classier Kildare forwards of recent seasons, Kavanagh now works in Galway and plays his club football with Milltown. Simple pragmatism has, thus, seen him throw his lot in with the Tribesmen under Alan Mulholland. With signs that Mulholland was coming to grips with the job as last year's summer progressed, Kavanagh's availability may be an unexpected boon in 2014. Made a good start against Sligo yesterday, but the pressure will be on him to find a prominent role in Galway's story.



Suddenly 2010 and those dual senior and U-21 Connacht Championship wins with Roscommon must seem a long distance in the rearview mirror for Shine, whose career has since been badly impeded by injury. Can he lead his county back to the business-end of a championship season? With his 25th birthday arriving next month, Shine will be impatient to -- at the very least -- get himself back to full health. If he succeeds, Roscommon optimism will grow.



A suspicion remains that, by now, Walsh should be among the best midfielders in Gaelic football. That hasn't quite happened, though, for the 2010 Young Player of the Year, who is also a double All Star. Has now announced his intention to juggle both football and hurling commitments for Cork in 2014, a decision that has raised eyebrows. Walsh's story feels like a microcosm of Cork's since 2010. Will either write a new chapter in 2014?

Irish Independent

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