Five young hurlers to watch during the 2017 Championship
Who are the young players we should be keeping a close eye on this summer?
1. Richie Leahy (Kilkenny)
Brian Cody cut a defiant figure the morning after Kilkenny’s All-Ireland final defeat to Tipperary last September and was adamant that “there are players on our panel who haven’t been seen yet who will be top players”.
And the 11-time All-Ireland-winning boss hasn’t wasted any time injecting fresh blood with Leahy, an All-Ireland intermediate winner last season, one of many featuring during the spring and growing into the challenge.
Despite much talk of the stalling of the conveyor belt on Noreside, the Rower-Inistioge left-hander is one of the new wave of Cats.
Comfortable anywhere from No 8 upwards, Leahy could be the name on everyone’s lips this summer.
2. DJ Foran (Waterford)
Waterford’s possession-based style of play demands huge energy and athleticism with smaller, skilful players to the fore but the towering Foran, an All-Ireland U-21 winner last year, could offer the Déise something different in attack this summer.
The Portlaw forward, similar in size, stature and style to Galway attacker Johnny Glynn, excelled during the Munster SHL and was a key player for UCD in the Fitzgibbon Cup but his league debut was delayed until their quarter-final defeat to Galway, where he hit two points.
With raw athleticism, a magnificent paw and the ability to occupy a defender’s mind, he could be a lethal weapon for Derek McGrath and allow a more direct approach in big games.
3. Jack O’Connor (Wexford)
On the back of some outstanding displays for Wexford’s U-21s in recent years, O’Connor became a regular fixture last summer under Liam Dunne but he looks to have reached a new level this season and will get better with time.
New Model boss Davy Fitzgerald has quickly lifted the gloom on Slaneyside and placed a lot of faith in youth with the physically imposing St Martin’s clubman, who is equally adept in the half-back line or midfield, one of many to benefit.
Coming from rich hurling lineage with his father John an All-Ireland winner with Wexford in 1996 along with his uncle George, O’Connor has a lot to learn but has heaps of potential and can follow in their footsteps in the purple and gold.
4. Shane Kingston (Cork)
Kingston’s Twitter biography reads “when you’re a winner, you come back no matter what happened the day before” and the Douglas youngster, son of Rebel boss Kieran, has certainly had to overcome his share of serious injury in recent years.
With that in the past and cameo appearances against Dublin and Wexford in last year’s qualifiers under his belt, the exciting attacker, spoken highly of in Cork, is doing his damnedest to help lift his father’s side out of the doldrums in 2017.
The left-hander has pace, power, a keen eye for the posts and showed glimpses of what could follow this summer with sparkling league displays against Clare and Dublin, hitting 0-4 and 1-2 from play.
5. Donal Burke (Dublin)
Ger Cunningham has placed his faith in youth, with many young Dublin stars thrust into senior action in the past 18 months and Burke has been one of the benefactors this season with a string of fine performances in the league.
Playing All-Ireland champions Tipperary in their Croke Park opener in February was a baptism of fire for many of the inexperienced Dubs but the Na Fianna attacker grew in confidence over the spring and looks a fine prospect.
A deadly free-taker, Burke is likely to be usurped on placed-ball duties by the return of Cuala’s David Treacy but he’s an able deputy and can offer a lot to the fold in his first inter-county season.