Tuesday 6 December 2016

The 16 footballers to watch in 2016

Some of the hot football prospects who can make a name for themselves this year

Published 13/01/2016 | 02:30

Cork's Ian Maguire, Kildare's Neil Flynn and Mayo underage star Conor Loftus
Cork's Ian Maguire, Kildare's Neil Flynn and Mayo underage star Conor Loftus
Mayo's Conor Loftus (SPORTSFILE)
Dublin's Con O'Callaghan (SPORTSFILE)
Kildare's Neil Flynn (SPORTSFILE)

It was Dublin's Brian Fenton in 2015 who jumped ahead of most expectations to make a real mark, Kerry's Paul Murphy a year earlier. Is there another young 'bolter' out there who can make that type of impact with their county so early in their careers? We look at 16 potential candidates.

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Con O'Callaghan (Dublin)

The lights have been flashing on the talented Cuala dual player since the 2014 minor championship when he hit 4-32 before Dublin's exit to Donegal in an All-Ireland semi-final. Recent O'Byrne Cup exposure illustrates senior management interest but the queue to a prized blue shirt between the numbers of 13 and 15 will be longer than ever this season.

Brian Begley (Kerry)

Double All-Ireland colleges winner with Pobalscoil Chorca Dhuibne, at full-back and centre-back, an All-Ireland minor winner in 2014, Begley ticks a lot of boxes in an area where Kerry require more cover. But he's up against the weight of recent history as Eamonn Fitzmaurice hasn't played an U-21 player in a Championship match in three years and has rarely done so in League games either.

Conor Loftus (Mayo)

One of the stars of the 2013 All-Ireland minor win, Crossmolina's Loftus has struggled with injury since, but his appearances over the last two weekends suggest he's firmly in the plans. A direct runner suited more to half-forward than the inside line, his basketball prowess is evident from the quick hands he possesses.

Rory Carr (Donegal)

Rory Gallagher has been busy recruiting a wealth of young talent in the off season to freshen up his squad but Rory Carr, son of former Donegal player Paul, may be best placed to take the biggest leap, provided he can overcome a recent shoulder dislocation. Just out of minor - he featured for St Eunan's in the recent Ulster minor final against Crossmaglen - he has a strong physical presence for his age and could provide an outlet in the full-forward line at some stage.

Cathal Compton (Roscommon)

Currently sidelined with injury, Compton's performances for last year's U-21 side pointed to a big future, his trio of points against Tyrone in the All-Ireland semi-final standing out. With a clean bill of health he could feature in what has been a position of some uncertainty for Roscommon in rceent years.

Ian Maguire (Cork)

Recovered from a back injury picked up last year, the St Finbarr's man offers an option at midfield, where Cork are crying out for cover, if he can avoid a relapse.

Barry McGinn (Monaghan)

McGinn has the ball winning ability and accuracy to make an impact in tandem with Conor McCarthy this year. Another one of the 2013 Ulster minor title winning team - his two goals off the bench helped to swing the game in Monaghan's favour - pace is the only potential drawback for the Doohamlet man, a key figure in the club's intermediate win last year.

Lee Brennan (Tyrone)

Plenty of talented Tyrone underage forwards have failed to deliver on their potential but Brennan's improvement through last year's U-21 championship was noticeable, a campaign he didn't start in but finished with 0-19. Sure to make his mark with Mickey Harte this year.

Ryan Bell (Derry)

A second coming of sorts for the 21-year-old who featured for Brian McIver's seniors in 2013 and won a Division 2 medal before drifting. Can offer Damien Barton real presence at midfield again.

James McEntee (Meath)

Has already put a Championship season down with Meath but will continue to improve and offer real versatility across just about any line. A nephew of former All-Ireland winning midfielder Gerry, he has guided his club Curraha to Leinster junior success in recent months.

Peter Cooke (Galway)

Has been making an impression for his club Moycullen and NUIG and can present options for Kevin Walsh around the half-forward line, where Michael Daly, son of Val, will also be a strong candidate.

Eoin Lowry (Laois)

Lowry is developing into a decent forward who has the skill and the accuracy to offer support to Donie Kingston in the Laois attack later this year.

Shea Heffron (Armagh)

From a long way out Heffernan has been earmarked as a future Armagh defender, with comparisons to Charlie Vernon, and this year he looks like he'll get his chance. Armagh have not been blessed with an over-supply of defenders, and the Clann Eireann man can provide cover across a host of positions.

Thomas Galligan (Cavan)

No shortage of potential movers in Cavan but after his tour de force in last year's McRory Cup final for St Patrick's, the Lacken man, who scores liberally from midfield, has continued his form with the U-21s in recent matches. That rate of progress can take him further over the next few months.

Neil Flynn (Kildare)

Anyone who witnessed his kicking display against Dublin in last year's Leinster U-21 final defeat will have been taken by what Flynn can potentially bring. Scored 11 points of the highest quality that night but went to the US for the summer.

Currently on Cian O'Neill's extended squad, he can offer a reliable free-taking service.

Colm O'Shaughnessy (Tipperary)

He came in at the tail end of last year's senior campaign after impressive U-21 displays and is a tight-marking corner-back, as Tyrone's Lee Brennan is sure to testify. With Tipperary losing key figures, he has the potential to quickly establish himself as a leader.

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