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Friday 18 April 2014

14 rising GAA stars to watch for in 2014

Squads have been named, plans have been drawn up, goals have been set and new faces are about to have investments of faith placed upon them as the new season cranks up into action. Colm Keys looks at some of the players who could make the breakthrough in the coming year

Jonathan Lyne

FERGAL CONWAY (KILDARE)

Kieran McGeeney elevated a stream of players from Kildare's U-21 team that fell short in an All-Ireland semi-final, but Conway didn't make full championship status, failing to make an appearance in any of their quartet of games last summer.

He was, however, a solid presence at centre-back on that U-21 team and can play a similar role under Jason Ryan. Opportunity knocks with Peter Kelly out through injury, Morgan O'Flaherty unavailable and other seasoned players struggling with injury and form.

JONATHAN LYNE (KERRY)

Had his season badly disrupted with an ankle injury that took most of the summer to repair. Lyne did everything in the league, however, to suggest that a breakthrough was imminent, filling the half-forward void created by Paul Galvin's absence with consummate ease. With high-profile departures in the off-season, Lyne's availability as a defensive half-forward or even half-back comes more sharply into focus.

PAUL VARLEY (GALWAY)

Varley's twin brother Adrian is perhaps better known but last year's U-21 left half-back has created quite an impression among Galway followers. His point in the All-Ireland U-21 final against Cork was one of the Tribes' most memorable. His direct running style has appeal and he has the capacity to make ground quickly from half-back, where Galway are not exactly overendowed with options.

ADAM GALLAGHER (MAYO)

Castlebar's Tom King is an option for attack but 2012 minor captain Gallagher looks like a player equipped to meet the demands of the modern game quite quickly. Mayo are well served in the half-forward line already since Keith Higgins' switch there, but with Alan Dillon likely to miss much of the league, Gallagher has a chance to make a mark there.

CONAN GRUGAN (TYRONE)

Grugan's progress has been stalled by a knee injury which sidelined him for much of 2013, but towards the end of last season he was flourishing in internal games and especially for Omagh in the Tyrone club championship. Grugan, a 2010 All-Ireland minor medal winner, has developed physically over the last 12 months and early indications are that he can apply pressure to the existing Cavanagh brother axis at midfield and at least give Mickey Harte better options in an area where they need them most.

CONOR MCHUGH (DUBLIN)

Just like last year, take your pick from any of the potential new recruits at Jim Gavin's disposal. McHugh, an All-Ireland minor winner in 2012, looks the pick, however, and he could potentially follow Paul Mannion's meteoric 2013 path in the coming months. His form for his club Na Fianna has been scintillating, while he showed his range for talents for DCU against Louth on Saturday night with some great scores and movement in the second half.

DARACH O'CONNOR (DONEGAL)

The son of former Roscommon great John 'Jigger' O'Connor, Darach shares some of his father's traits, chiefly an eye for goal. The 2013 Donegal minor captain made a mark with the U-21s earlier in the year and despite his modest size, he is brave and direct in possession. Named at corner-forward last weekend, but Donegal's full-forward line is particularly strong, which will leave the 18-year-old Buncrana Leaving Cert student stretched to displace anyone. But his development gives Jim McGuinness options, with Paddy McBrearty and Michael Murphy able to adapt to positions further outfield.

TURLOCK MOONEY (CAVAN)

Cavan have plenty of options coming off three Ulster title-winning U-21 teams, and one of the most interesting potential recruits is Mooney, who was forced out of the 2012 campaign when he damaged a cruciate ligament, but made it back as a third title was added last year. Mooney offers an option around the half-forward line from where he can score and make his significant presence felt.

JOHN McLOUGHLIN (CORK)

An interesting choice given that five years ago he won an All-Ireland U-21 medal when Cork beat Down. But McLoughlin, a brother of Rebel hurler Lorcan, has been patient, and with three stalwart defenders retiring in the off-season he could lay down a challenge for a corner-back spot, especially if Michael Shields switches to the half-back line.

CONOR MCCARTHY (MONAGHAN)

If Monaghan are to build on their Ulster Championship success in 2013, placing faith quickly in young McCarthy is a leap they will have to make. The star of their minor team last year, there are few as classy in his age bracket and his performances at college level late last year suggests his development as a forward continues.

CILLIAN O'SULLIVAN (MEATH)

A key component on the Meath team that lost the 2012 All-Ireland minor final to Dublin, O'Sullivan spent much of last year in Australia as part of his studies. Fast and accurate, his style will fit in with the way Mick O'Dowd is attempting to take his Meath team following on from the successful integration of Eamonn Wallace and Mickey Newman in 2013.

ADAM RYAN (LAOIS)

Laois underage teams have endured slim pickings in recent years but Portarlington's Ryan has been one of their stand-out players at minor and U-21 level. He could have arrived on a senior panel at any stage over the last couple of seasons, and judging by his debut on Sunday last against Wexford at this level, he won't be long making up for lost time.

NIALL HOLLY (DERRY)

A player who has been on the fringes before in John Brennan's time, but after overcoming injury the powerfully-built midfielder could not have timed his return with more precision after a difficult 2013 for various Derry midfield pairings.

ROBBIE TASKER (ARMAGH)

Just over four years on from helping Armagh to win the 2009 All-Ireland final, Tasker has finally stepped up to become a fully fledged Armagh senior footballer. Observers in the county will await his progress with interest after his form in helping St Pat's Cullyhanna to the county senior final last October, when they inevitably lost to Crossmaglen. Tasker is a skilful forward with an instinct for goals and with Ciaron O'Hanlon gone for the year, he has the talent to advance his claims.

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