Monday, 1 August 2011

Six to Watch

At a wedding recently I was chatting to my uncle about the success of the Eoghan Rua Coleraine Camogie and Football teams.  County champions in both codes in 2010, with the camogs going all the way to the All-Ireland.  He lives in the area and many of the players are his neighbours.

Both teams were backboned by young players, the majority of which were single.  He reckoned that GAA is very much a young person’s game, the Coleraine players putting in a tremendous effort, one that may not be possible with the pressure to work overtime in order to support their family, especially in the current economic climate.

Their student lifestyle allows them to prepare in an almost professional manner.  I know the student life is often associated with microwave dinners, pizzas and drinks promotions.  It is well known that the Coleraine players didn’t sign up that version of student life.  Their student life involves sport and going to the gym before and after lectures.  It got me thinking.

Over the past few weeks, some of the central performers in Croker and the various other arenas are young and have tremendous careers ahead of them.  Here are six to watch.

Mark McHugh - Donegal
Jim McGuinness has taken over the reigns in Donegal and has blooded many of the U21 players he moulded over the past few years.  One is the very versatile Mark McHugh.  Despite listed as a forward, McHugh is central to Donegal’s counter attacking style of play.  I would love to see the possession stats for all his games this season.

The young Kilcar player is very composed on the ball, works very hard for the cause and always pops up for valuable scores.  It struck me in his post match interview after the Ulster Final, he eyes on September and the big prize.  I thought it was a positive sign of the young enthusiasm that Donegal have brought to the 2011 season.

Jamie Clarke – Armagh
When I was involved with the county minors, we played Armagh in Glenullin one weekend.  It was a typical open, high scoring challenge game, Armagh had three great forwards. After the game I found out they were all from Crossmaglen, one of which was Jamie Clarke.

Since that day he has transformed from a young prospect to an established inter county forward. As Oisin McConville is approaching the end of his career, Clarke is ready to take over his mantle.  He is illusive and has a great knack of scoring goals.  He is one of the players you would pay money to watch.

It’s just a pity that the current Armagh team are gone from the championship and we won’t get to see him on the biggest days of the season.

Cillian O’Connor –Mayo
In the Connacht final win over Roscommon, one players scored 0-8 and picked up man of the match.  The same man, this weekend against All-Ireland champions Cork he scored 0-6 to help Mayo into the All-Ireland semi finals.  No it wasn't seasoned campaigner Andy Moran, or Alan Dillon. It was last year’s minor captain Cillian O’Connor.

When you think of Mayo in Croke Park and on big days, you think of missed chances and wasted opportunities.  I am looking forward to seeing how he develops over the next few years. 

James Horan is the latest in a line of modern forward thinking managers.  He seems to have put tremendous faith in some of the young players at his disposal. 

Peter Harte – Tyrone
Very often young players lack resilience, wilting when the pressure is on, or if they have an off day.  When Tyrone exited the Ulster Championship, Harte missed a number of crucial free kicks.  For such a young players to bounce back like he has, is an excellent sign of things to come.

A nephew of Mickey, Peter came to recognition as a half forward for Omagh CBS in the MacRory Cup.  In 2008 Raymond Munroe deployed him at centre back for the county minors when they won the All-Ireland.  They beat us in the league that year in Ardboe, I remember Harte scoring a cracking goal driving forward with purpose. Shows the great versaility he has.

Harte will have a big future for the Red hands, a player very much in the mound of Brian McGuigan.

Donie Shine - Roscommon
The 2006 All-Ireland drawn minor final was a cracker between Roscommon and Kerry.  Donie Shine was certainly a central figure in that game and the replay which Roscommon went on to win.  Last year, again under Fergal O’Donnell Roscommon won the Connacht title and Donie Shine kicked points from everywhere taking them to the title.

The young DCU student is not only an established player for the senior team but one of their most important players.  One of the forgotten skills is kicking frees off the ground and Donie is a master at it.  When playing against him, defences have to be extra disciplined.  A foul is more often than not a point. 

Roscommon have advanced from 2006 minor champions, but if they are to break into the next bracket of teams above them, Shine will be a central cog.

Michael Murphy - Donegal
The naming of Michael Murphy as captain this season was a real statement of intent that Jim McGuiness was going to put faith in youth.  The likes of Kevin Cassidy and Colm McFadden all have played important roles this season, but Murphy is the future of Donegal.

The Glenswilly man is no doubt a brilliant footballer.  Strong, mobile and accurate.  I felt for him that day in Breffni Park when his was inches away from winning the All-Ireland U21 with his penalty.  In this season’s Ulster final he stepped up another vital penalty and made no mistake.  A lesser man would not have taken the responsibility after the ghosts of Breffni.

I don’t like the poor entertainment value that their defensive system brings, but I would love to see Murphy walking up the famous steps on the third Sunday in September.  I was down at the International rules trials last year and was introduced to Murphy by my clubmate Christopher McKaigue.  Murphy was a very down to earth guy. 

So imagine the team with these guys lined out in it:


Who will be next?
Over the next few years, we’ll see how the various young players from the different counties develop into established senior footballers. 

The joke doing the rounds at the minute among the Donegal fans is “Derry for cheap drink, Donegal for Sam”

From a Derry point of view, I hope the next batch of established county players are the likes of Declan Mullan, James Kielt, Lee Moore and Cailean O’Boyle. 

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