15 footballers to watch out for in the new season

A glance at football’s stars in waiting who can make big breakthroughs this year

by Colm Keys ( follow him on )

Conor Keane, Kerry

Conor Keane, Kerry

Is there another Paul Murphy out there? The young Kerry defender’s stellar progression through 2014 was one of the cornerstones of the Kingdom’s All-Ireland success but he was scarcely mapped this time 12 months ago.

We look at some of the players who can leave an impact on the 2015 football season.

Conor Keane (Kerry)

What? Another stellar Kerry forward in the making? And another Legion man too. With Colm Cooper, Tommy Walsh and Darran O’Sullivan available again it will leave the Kerry attack quite a congested place but Keane has the ability to pick his way through the traffic. After a very productive year for his club he has been illuminating for the Kerry U-21s (he scored 3-2 in a Hastings Cup match against Meath) and Tralee IT. Keane was on the county U-21s two years ago while still a minor. That’s a fair indication of how highly thought of he is.

Kevin Crowley (Cork)

Featured in a few of last year’s league games and is expected to become a more permanent fixture in a defence where opportunity knocks. Crowley is a highly-rated defender whose 2014 season was interrupted by injury. He helped his club Millstreet to win a Cork junior title and is still eligible for U-21 level this year.

Eric Lowndes (Dublin)

One of the stars of Dublin’s 2012 All-Ireland minor success and a key figure in last year’s All-Ireland U-21 triumph, Lowndes is a player of rich potential. With so much competition around the fringes of Jim Gavin’s team a breakthrough for a young Dublin player is challenging but there could be an opening at half-back for the St Peregrine’s man in the months ahead. Industrious, quite physical and defends well, which is what Dublin may be looking for from this line this season.

4 January 2015; Eoin McHugh, Donegal, in action against Mark Lynch, Derry. Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup, Group B, Round 1, Derry v Donegal. Owenbeg Centre of Excellence, Dungiven, Co. Derry. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
Eoin McHugh, Donegal, in action against Mark Lynch, Derry

Harry Rooney (Meath)

Early days yet for Rooney but his rate of improvement has been evident in recent O’Byrne Cup games. Meath manager Mick O’Dowd and selector Trevor Giles are Skryne clubmates and will know the potential he has. Not spectacular but ticks a lot of boxes and his work-rate, size and fielding ability could provide Meath with a real midfield option in 2015.

DarRoch Mulhall (Kildare)

The terms of a ‘breakthrough’ player may be stretched here as Mulhall is now 23 and featured prominently in last year’s league before illness put him out of the championship. But in the O’Byrne Cup he is again delivering on the potential he showed as a minor when he was top scorer in the 2009 championship.

Diarmuid O’Connor (Mayo)

An All-Ireland minor medal winner with Mayo in 2013, Cillian’s younger brother started against Roscommon last year but didn’t resurface. His versatility and game intelligence guarantees that he will have a more sustained run in 2015.

Ultan Harney (Roscommon)

Plenty of potential in Roscommon, but if Harney can stave off injuries that interrupted his 2014 season he can really add something to the team in the months ahead. A star of their 2013 minors, he kept up his rate of progress in last year’s U- 21 championship, with his spectacular goal a highlight against Cork in the semi-final. Offers an option at midfield or half-forward but must be fit.

8 March 2014; Michael Fitzsimons, Dublin, in action against Darroch Mulhall, Kildare. Allianz Football League, Division 1, Round 4, Dublin v Kildare, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Piaras ? M?dheach / SPORTSFILE
Michael Fitzsimons, Dublin, in action against Darroch Mulhall, Kildare. Allianz Football League, Division 1, Round 4, Dublin v Kildare, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Piaras Ó Mídheach / SPORTSFILE

Damien Comer (Galway)

Has already had exposure to championship football with Galway in 2014 but the impact he felt from his thundering collision with Mayo’s Colm Boyle in the Connacht final clearly stalled his progress. A player that Kevin Walsh may look to build a new attack around as he has the versatility to play at full-forward or half-forward.

Ross McGarry (Down)

Like Mulhall in Kildare, the 23-year-old McGarry might have been expected to make waves at inter-county level before now but his performances for Warrenpoint in winning the Ulster intermediate title late last year have really put him back in the shop window and, with a new slate, manager Jim McCorry will be keen to fill the void left by the departure of so many established players. A forward who oozes class at club level; it will be interesting to see if he can make the leap.

Ciaron O’Hanlon (Armagh)

Last year’s U-21 captain Micheal McKenna has showed promise but the return of Ciaron O’Hanlon to the squad is significant. Maybe as an 18-year-old, his appearance in Breffni Park for that disastrous 2013 Ulster championship opener against Cavan was too much too soon but after taking last year out he may now be better prepared. The Killeavy man is direct, powerful, catches well and has two good feet but faces a battle to break into the Armagh half-forward line.

Padraig McNulty (Tyrone)

The Dungannon man is one of only two players to have started all three McKenna Cup games so far, which is an indication that Mickey Harte sees real potential in him. A highly mobile player, McNulty can challenge hard to join Colm Cavanagh at midfield in his first season with the seniors, releasing Sean Cavanagh to attack on a more permanent basis.

Eoin McHugh (Donegal)

The third member of this generation of the Kilcar dynasty, Eoin is son of 1992 All-Ireland winner James and first cousin to Ryan and Mark. Has impressed for the Donegal U-21s and his club over the last 12 months. New Donegal manager Rory Gallagher has coached him at both levels and will know his qualities. Has an extra gear that could be beneficial to Donegal’s half-forward line.

Tom Hayes (Cavan)

With Eugene Keating’s departure and uncertainty over whether Sean Johnston will get a recall, Hayes could find himself elevated quickly to the Cavan full-forward line. Fearless in his approach, the young Cootehill man’s low centre of gravity allows him to protect ball well and win frees.

Daniel McKenna (Monaghan)

The inspiration behind Truagh’s 2013 Ulster intermediate win, McKenna has made firm progress so far this season and is a forward who can add to Malachy O’Rourke’s options in the months ahead.

Danny Tallon (Derry)

A long shot and a name that might not surface until much later in the season. Tallon is only out of minor and has hardly played with his senior club team but Derry manager Brian McIver likes what he sees in the young Glen forward, who has been part of their four successive Ulster minor championship successes.

Irish Independent

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