Marie Crowe’s 10 young guns to watch out for in 2014
The future looks bright for rising stars already mixing in high-class company
It's easy to understand why winger Greg O'Shea appeals to the powers that be in the Munster Rugby Academy. He can run 100 metres in 10.8 seconds and has a proven ability to score tries when his team have their backs to the wall. Last March his school, Crescent College, won the Munster Senior Cup for the first time in 19 years and O'Shea was instrumental in their successful campaign. He was selected for the Ireland U18 schools in 2012 and 2013 and also for the Irish U20s' training camp last November. O'Shea is still only 18 and during the rugby off-season he competes on the track. As an athlete with an abundance of ability and the right attitude, he should go far.
Three years ago when Emma Sharkey went to a Triathlon Ireland talent identification day, she realised that her running was a lot better than her swimming. Rather than be put off she got to work, rising three mornings a week at 5.30 to improve her swimming. Her efforts paid dividends and in the last year the 19-year-old came 13th at the Junior World Championships in London and third at the Athlone Junior European Cup. This year she hopes to make the Commonwealth Games in both the individual and team relay races. Sharkey is a member of Olympian Triathlon Club in Belfast and trains in Leeds University while at college.
Nicola & Louise Ward
Twins Nicola and Louise Ward had a busy year for both their club, Kilkerrin Clonberne, and their county, Galway. In the minor All-Ireland final replay, Nicola lined out at centre-back while Louise played centre-forward, scoring two goals to beat Dublin and claim the title. Nicola has already made her debut for the county senior team, coming on in Galway's All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Monaghan. On top of their success with Galway, their club won the senior county title but lost the Connacht final to eventual All-Ireland final winners Carnacon.
With every passing year Marcus Lawler takes a step closer to being a world-class sprinter. Last June at the All-Ireland schools championships in Tullamore, he broke both the 100m and 200m senior boys' records. From there the Carlow native went on to finish fourth in the 200m at the European junior championships in Reiti. He topped off his summer by coming second in the 200m and third in the 100m at the National Senior Championships in Santry. His mother is former international sprinter Patricia Amond Lawler so ability and talent are in his genes.
With an average age of 23 and no retirements on the horizon, the Clare hurling team will be a tough side to break into. However, for teenager Bobby Duggan it looks like it could be on the cards in 2014. Last month he lined out in Clare's full-forward line in a challenge game against Antrim and was one of the stand-out players on the pitch. A minor last year, he didn't make the under 21 All-Ireland-winning team, but he starred for his club Clarecastle in the Clare senior and minor championships. He's a natural forward, an excellent free-taker and is very strong for his age, exactly what Davy Fitzgerald looks for.
At the beginning of last season, Paul Grimley called Ciaron O'Hanlon onto the Armagh senior football team. The half-forward was the main man for St Paul's Bessbrook during their run to the MacRory Cup final. In the first round of the Ulster Championship Grimley gave the teenager a start. Armagh's championship was over before it began but the 18-year-old made his mark. With Kieran McGeeney now involved in the Armagh set-up, big things are expected from the Orchard County in 2014 and O'Hanlon is just the type of player McGeeney will look to.
Last September, Dublin teenage goalkeeper Ian Lawlor was catapulted into Manchester City's first team squad for their Champions League clash with Victoria Plzen. Manuel Pellegrini gave the former Home Farm player his chance after he excelled for the under 21s. Despite his youth he's already made appearances for the Ireland under 19 team, completed the 2012/13 pre-season tour of Austria with City's first team and was a regular for the City Elite Development Squad during the NextGen series. With Joe Hart falling in and out of favour, Lawlor's chance to get more regular action could be just around the corner.
Jockey Danny Mullins is the latest member of his famous family to make an impact on the racing scene. His uncles Willie and Tom are well-known and successful trainers, his father Tony was champion jockey and his mother Mags was champion lady rider. The 21-year-old learned his trade from his family and on the pony racing scene. After leaving school he took up an apprenticeship with Jim Bolger. He became Barry Connell's retained rider at the start of last year and since then has gained much vital experience and recorded some impressive wins, including his first Grade One winner on Mount Benbulben. In 2014, Mullins is expected to reach new heights.
Ireland's top junior backstroker, Laoise Fleming, may only be 15 years old, but she's already made her mark on the national and international swimming scene. She competed in the European Junior Swimming Championships last July where she set a new Irish record of 2:18.53 and finished 14th overall. The Kells native trains full-time at the Swim Ireland performance centre at the National Aquatic Centre. Fleming still has another year left at junior level and is on course to improve on last year's performance. Her best years are yet to come.
Conor & Aidan Quinn
Having former Irish international point guard, Adrian Fulton, as a mentor has helped twins Conor and Aidan Quinn flourish on the basketball court. The boys attend legendary basketball nursery St Malachy's College in Belfast and last year they won both the All-Ireland Schools Cup and League. Like their mentor they play their club basketball with Belfast Star and in 2013 won the under 18 National Cup for the first time since Fulton played. The Quinns combined for 42 of Star's 68 points with Conor being awarded most valuable player. They both represented Ireland at under 18 level and they hope to build on their success in the year ahead.