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9 young hurlers to watch out for in this summer's senior championship

We’ve picked a player from each of nine counties who will look to make a big impact in championship 2017.

AS THE 2017 senior hurling championship cranks into gear, supporters of the various counties involved harbour high hopes of glory.

They’ll bank on established stars delivering the goods again but bubbling beneath the surface, promising young players are also eager to make a mark.

Our list of 9, one from each of the counties featured, contains some players who have already shown what they can do at the highest level.

For others, it’s a pivotal season as they aim to push on and establish themselves even further.

And for more, the summer brings with it the prospect of a senior championship debut.

And so here, we run the rule over 9 young hurlers to watch out for in this summer’s senior championship…

1. Jason Cleere (Kilkenny)

Source: Ken Sutton/INPHO

Cleere, from the Bennettsbridge club, was drafted in for a Kilkenny senior debut against Cork in March.

And he stayed in the centre back position for the remainder of the League, starting against Tipperary, Dublin and Wexford.

Boss Brian Cody will now monitor Cleere’s progress in training ahead of a potential Leinster SHC semi-final against Wexford on 10 June, and decide whether the 20-year-old is ready to step into the Innovate Wexford Park cauldron for a senior championship debut.

Cleere is a former Croke Cup winner with St Kieran’s College, and he’s also an All-Ireland winner from his minor days with Kilkenny.

In addition, Cleere is the proud holder of All-Ireland intermediate club medals with Bennettsbridge in the junior and intermediate grades.

2. Steven O’Brien (Tipperary)

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

This is a potentially big summer for Steven O’Brien, the former senior football panellist who jumped across to the hurlers last year.

2016 was a frustrating campaign for O’Brien, whose only brief action came against Clare as a late sub in the Allianz League quarter-final defeat.

O’Brien started Tipp’s first three League games in 2017 against Dublin, Waterford and Clare, acquitting himself reasonably well.

He came on as sub against Kilkenny to shoot a late equaliser, didn’t feature against Cork but was used off the bench against Offaly in the League quarter-final, doing particularly well having been introduced.

O’Brien’s reward was a start against Wexford but he was taken off in the second half.

Handed another start for the final defeat to Galway, O’Brien’s day ended before half-time.

Still, a senior championship debut appears imminent for the Ballina clubman, who brings extra physicality to the half-forward line.

3. Shane Kingston (Cork)

Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

It was a productive League campaign for Shane Kingston, son of Cork senior hurling team manager Kieran.

He scored 0-4 against Clare in a home win, 1-2 in defeat to Dublin, and a point in victory over Waterford at Walsh Park, which was arguably Cork’s best display of the year.

Injury ended Kingston’s League campaign before the concluding stages but he’s set to make his mark in the summer’s championship campaign.

A former county minor captain, Kingston was also a key player for his club Douglas as they defeated Blackrock to win the county U21 premier hurling crown last November.

Kingston, still just 19 years of age, has already tasted senior championship fare, appearing as a sub against Dublin and Wexford in last year’s qualifiers.

As manager Kieran has invested heavily in youth this season, Shane is one of the key players he’ll bank on to spearhead a Rebel renaissance.

4. Shane Bennett (Waterford)

Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

On his full championship debut for Waterford in 2015, Shane Bennett grabbed the headlines with a stunning goal against Dublin.

A 2013 All-Ireland minor winning defender, Bennett is now plying his trade in attack, and he won a Bord Gáis Energy All-Ireland U21 medal last year, starring in the final victory over Galway.

Source: HappyPatricksDay2017/YouTube

If Waterford harbour hopes of pushing on and cracking the All-Ireland senior code, Bennett is one of an exciting group of youngsters who will guide them to the Promised Land.

A brother of fellow senior star Stephen, Shane will feel this is a season where he can leave a big mark.

Bennett’s still only 20 years of age and his best years are ahead of him.

He netted goals against Cork and Clare in the 2017 Allianz League and will hope to find similar scoring form during the summer.

5. Conor Whelan (Galway)

Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Whelan was just 18 years of age when he took the hurling world by storm in 2015, coming in from left-field for a senior championship debut against Cork.

Whelan, from Kinvara, rewarded then manager Anthony Cunningham’s faith in him with a haul of 1-2, before adding two crucial points in the All-Ireland semi-final victory over Tipperary.

Whelan won’t be 21 until October and there have been signs this year that his game has gone to a new level.

In Galway’s Allianz League final win, Whelan picked off five points from play and gave All-Star defender Cathal Barrett a torrid time.

He’s a physically bigger man now and having missed out on the 2015 All-Ireland intermediate win following his senior call-up, Whelan will target national summer honours in the senior grade.

6. Conor McDonald (Wexford)

Source: Ken Sutton/INPHO

The shining light of Wexford’s attack during the Allianz League campaign, McDonald made his senior championship debut in 2013 and yet he’s still only 21.

The Naomh Éanna clubman was just 15 years of age when he first linked up with the Wexford minor team, before going on to star at U21 level.

Source: breakingthrough/YouTube

Under Davy Fitzgerald’s stewardship, Wexford have emerged as a force to be reckoned with again in the senior grade, gaining promotion from Division 1B before defeating the Kilkenny in a League quarter-final.

If, as expected, Wexford get past a round-robin qualifier in Leinster, they’ll meet the Cats on June 10 at Innovate Wexford Park.

And the Slaneysiders will need McDonald firing on all cylinders against Brian Cody’s visitors, if that showdown does come to pass.

7. Aron Shanagher (Clare)

When Clare posted a notable Allianz Hurling League victory over Kilkenny in February, Aron Shanagher scored 1-4, all but one point from play.

He followed up with another two points against Waterford and added 1-2 as Clare saw off Dublin in a relegation play-off to preserve their top-flight status.

Shanagher’s made a big impact in a short space of time and he came off the bench to score a crucial goal for Munster in their GAA Interprovincial final victory over Leinster late last year.

Last summer, he grabbed headlines when scoring a hat-trick of goals against Laois in an All-Ireland qualifier, having scored a decisive goal to floor Tipperary in the Allianz Hurling League quarter-final.

A 2015 Munster intermediate club winner with Wolfe Tones, Shanagher was a county minor as recently as that same year, but has been successfully fast-tracked into the senior ranks.

8. Donal Burke (Dublin)

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Donal Burke, a 2016 Leinster minor winner with Dublin, has made a successful step-up to senior fare thus far.

He scored three frees in Dublin’s defeat to Tipperary in the Allianz League at the start of the campaign, before shooting eight in victory over Cork, including three from play.

Round 3 saw Burke collect 1-7 from placed balls against Waterford and he picked off two frees in a narrow loss to Clare at Cusack Park.

Another eye-catching display saw Burke register 1-9 (0-7 frees) against Kilkenny and while the Sky Blues suffered relegation in a play-off with Clare, Burke still enjoyed a decent game, scoring three points from play.

Barring injury, the Na Fianna player is certain to make his senior championship debut when Dublin take on League champions Galway in Tullamore on 28 May.

9. Barry Nash (Limerick)

Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Barry Nash’s departure from the Limerick senior hurling panel was met with shock last February, but the South Liberties clubman has since returned.

Nash was man-of-the-match in the 2015 Bord Gáis Energy All-Ireland U21 final, having made his mark as a highly-rated minor.

Nash was the player at the centre of the 2013 HawkEye storm and he went on to make his senior debut debut last summer.

Indeed, Nash featured in all three of Limerick’s summer outings, having been handed his bow by then manager TJ Ryan.

Now, forward Nash is working with John Kiely again, the man who was the manager of Limerick’s U21s in 2015.

Nash is a player that Kiely rates highly, and he looks set to feature prominently for the Shannonsiders this summer.

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