IT’S THAT TIME of year again as a host of would-be contenders battle it out for the Fitzgibbon Cup crown won by University of Limerick in 2015.
It might be classed as ‘winter hurling’ but it’s usually brilliant and here’s your run-down on 12 players to watch in this year’s competition.
1. John O’Dwyer – (CIT – Tipperary)
The man known as ‘Bubbles’ is renowned as one of the most gifted players in the game at the present time.
A 2015 Munster senior medallist with Tipperary, O’Dwyer will be one of the key players for Cork IT as they seek to emerge from a three-team group also featuring GMIT and Ulster University.
O’Dwyer was impressive for CIT en route to last year’s semi-finals, where they were beaten by holders Waterford IT after extra-time.
2. Danny Sutcliffe – (DCU – Dublin)
Intercounty fans may be deprived of watching Sutcliffe in action for Dublin this year, as he has opted to take time out to concentrate on his studies.
A finance student at DCU, Sutcliffe is the main man for them in a competitive four-team pool alongside League champions IT Carlow, St Pat’s and last year’s beaten Fitzgibbon finalists Waterford IT.
Rising Dublin star Cian Boland is another key player for DCU but Sutcliffe is the man they’ll rely on if there’s a chance of causing an upset or two along the way.
3. Lee Chin – (DIT – Wexford)
Lee Chin leads the Wexford contingent in the DIT ranks as they prepare for Thursday’s opener against UL.
The dual star should be a tower of strength for a DIT team also bolstered by Chin’s fellow Slaneysiders Conor McDonald and Jack Guiney.
Dublin pair Mark Schutte and Shane Barrett are also members of the DIT set-up and they’ll quietly fancy their chances of emerging from a group that also features UL, NUI Galway and Mary Immaculate College.
4. Daniel Nevin – (GMIT – Galway)
GMIT will be confident of claiming one of the knockout places on offer from a three-team pool alongside Cork IT and Ulster University.
CIT should top the group and that leaves the GMIT-Ulster University clash as arguably the key match.
Daniel Nevin could swing it in GMIT’s favour and he featured for Galway in last year’s historic All-Ireland intermediate final victory over Cork.
Nevin hit five points from play in the decider and was one of the better players for the Tribesmen in the All-Ireland U21 semi-final loss to Limerick.
5. Colin Dunford – (IT Carlow – Waterford)
Having retained their Division 1 League crown, DJ Carey’s IT Carlow are now aiming to make their mark in the Fitzgibbon Cup.
Operating with largely the same squad as before Christmas, Carey will look to Waterford’s Colin Dunford for midfield impetus.
The former Harty and Croke Cup winner with Dungarvan Colleges made his Waterford senior championship debut in the summer of 2014 and was a star man in last year’s march to Allianz League glory and a Munster final appearance.
6. Diarmaid Byrnes – (Limerick IT – Limerick)
Diarmaid Byrnes will be a leading figure for Limerick IT as last year’s beaten semi-finalists look to make an impact in 2016.
Byrnes captained Limerick to All-Ireland U21 glory last year and also featured for Patrickswell in their county SHC final defeat at the hands of Na Piarsaigh.
He’s joined in the LIT ranks by Tipp’s former hurler of the year Cathal Barrett, Clare’s Peter Duggan and Galway’s Paul Killeen, to name just a few well-known players.
7. Declan Hannon – (Mary Immaculate College – Limerick)
When Mary Immaculate College contested an historic Fitzgibbon Cup final in 2013, Declan Hannon was one of their key players.
And the Limerick ace is still knocking around as a talented Mary I outfit set their sights on another good run in the competition.
Hannon lined out for Limerick in last weekend’s Munster Senior Hurling League final defeat against Clare and will now focus his attentions on third-level fare with dark horses Mary I.
8. Conor Whelan – (NUIG Galway – Galway)
Whelan hit the headlines last year when he was parachuted in from the intermediate ranks by Anthony Cunningham for a senior Galway championship debut against Cork in the All-Ireland quarter-finals.
Whelan, 18 at the time, responded with a haul of 1-2 before he added two points in the epic semi-final defeat of Tipperary.
NUI Galway have some work to do get out of a competitive group but Whelan’s Galway teammates John Hanbury and Cathal Mannion will also help their cause.
9. Niall McCarthy – (UCC – Cork)
UCC’s hopes of a first Fitzgibbon Cup win since 2013 were given a significant boost long before the competition draws were even made when it emerged that former Cork star Niall McCarthy will be eligible to play.
McCarthy, who won two All-Ireland hurling titles with Cork in 2004 and 2005, is in the first year of a four-year degree course in Sports Studies and Physical Education there.
But McCarthy is not the only big name on show for star-studded UCC, who are favourites with the bookmakers for glory.
10. Oisin O’Rorke – (UCD – Dublin)
O’Rorke has already made his mark in 2016, bagging a hat-trick of goals against Dublin in the Walsh Cup for UCD.
From the Kilmacud Crokes club, O’Rorke won a Dublin SHC medal in 2014 and he’s a two-time Leinster MHC medallist with the county team.
Once he’s completed his third-level commitments, O’Rorke will turn his attentions to nailing down a regular starting place in Ger Cunningham’s new-look Dublin team.
11. John McGrath – (UL – Tipperary)
Having seen his 2015 campaign blighted by injury, John McGrath will hope for an extended run in Tipperary colours this year.
The Loughmore-Castleiney man signalled his intent by posting 1-7 against Mary Immaculate College in a challenge outing last Sunday and he was a key man for UL in their march to Fitzgibbon Cup glory last year.
McGrath was motoring extremely well at the time and on course for a senior championship debut under Eamon O’Shea before a pelvic injury stalled his progress.
12. Austin Gleeson – (WIT – Waterford)
On paper at least, Waterford IT don’t appear to have as strong a squad as in previous seasons but they do have Austin Gleeson and that gives them hope of making an impact.
WIT are rated at 10-1 to win the competition outright and much of their hopes will rest on the shoulders of the gifted Mount Sion player, a 2013 All-Ireland minor medallist and breakthrough senior star of the past two seasons.
Gleeson was magnificent as WIT reached last year’s final and his leadership skills will be needed if a repeat performance is on the cards.
Which players are you looking forward to seeing in action during the Fitzgibbon Cup? Leave your feedback in the comments section below…
‘I could feel a dunt inside of the knee and I knew it wasn’t good from there’ – Kilkenny cruciate blow