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The key Cork, Dublin, Tipp and Galway players to watch in colleges action

The opening round of the 2018 O’Connor Cup kicks off today.

IT’S BACK.

THIRD-level ladies football championship action kicks off today with three exciting Gourmet Food Parlour O’Connor Cup fixtures down for decision.

Gourmet Food Parlour to sponsor the LGFA Higher Education championships Source: David Fitzgerald/SPORTSFILE

Reigning champions University of Limerick (UL) host National University of Ireland Galway (NUIG), and Division 1 league holders Dublin City University (DCU) welcome Queens University Belfast (QUB) to the capital.

In the third fixture of the day, Maynooth University (MU) travel to University College Cork (UCC), while 2016 champions University College Dublin (UCD) have a bye on the first day of action.

With a host of familiar inter-county faces going head-to-head, there’s plenty of talent to keep an eye on over the next few weeks.

But here’s one player from each side we think will have a huge say:

Aishling Moloney (DCU / Tipperary)

Aishling Moloney Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Aishling Moloney is a name well-traveled around ladies football circles these days. The 20-year-old was pivotal for Tipperary through 2017 as they capped an unbeaten year with the All-Ireland intermediate crown.

Accurate off both feet, tall and athletic, Moloney can shift seamlessly between full-forward, half-forward and midfield and her scoring prowess is one to be admired.

The Cahir dual star captains DCU as Peter Clarke’s charges hope to add to their Division 1 league title and finally end a seven-year drought for a coveted O’Connor Cup. And with a host of names from Mayo duo Sarah Rowe and Niamh Kelly to a strong Dublin contingent among their ranks, the Glasnevin outfit will be widely tipped to do so.

Eimear Scally (UL / Cork)

Eimear Scally with Orla Conlon Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Reigning champions UL open their campaign against NUIG later toady. They’ve won three of the last four titles, and if Cork sharpshooter Eimear Scally has her way and is allowed do her thing, it could be four of five.

Small in stature and nifty, her ability to win all kinds of ball and unerring accuracy has caused endless trouble for opposition through the past few years between club, college and county.

In her second year with the Limerick college, Scally is joined by some talented footballers from around the country; Tipperary duo Aisling McCarthy and Orla O’Dwyer, Mayo’s Fiona McHale and Grace Kelly, and Louise Ward and Laurie Ryan of Galway and Clare respectively all feature in the crop.

Martha Byrne (UCD / Dublin)

Martha Byrne with Sarah Rowe Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Cuala defender Martha Byrne was an ever-present in Mick Bohan’s All-Ireland-winning Dublin side through 2017 and started in the showpiece, performing well until she was substituted in the second half.

The 23-year old, who was nominated for an All-Star following her efforts last year, is currently undertaking a Masters in UCD and this will be her fifth year playing with the college. She starred in 2016 as the Belfield outfit took the title for the first time since 2006.

With former Cavan senior manager Conor Barry at the helm, rock-solid Byrne is joined once again by former winners and Galway duo Nicola Ward and Sarah Gormally and a host of other up-and-coming, young talents as they aim to reach the semi-final stages.

Emma Spillane (UCC / Cork)

In her first year with the Cork senior set-up, Emma Spillane was a standout player in defence through 2017. She made her debut in January and finished the year with a first-ever All-Star. An incredible rise.

The Bantry Blues clubwoman rocketed through the successful underage ranks on Leeside, and has been pin-pointed as a huge talent from a young age. Although still only 18, she has established herself as one of the foundation stones of a star-studded UCC defence.

Eimear Meaney, Marie Ambrose, Hannah Looney, Libby Coppinger and Niamh Cotter are among others who have plied their trade with Cork through the years lining out in the Skull and Crossbones jersey later today. Meanwhile, Tipperary All-Ireland-winning manager Shane Ronayne takes the reins yet again.

Olivia Divilly (NUIG / Galway)

Olivia Divilly Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

NUI Galway would be among the underdogs in the competition but that’s a hat they’ll wear proudly as they meet defending champions, UL, in their opening clash today. If they are to cause an early upset, Galway’s Olivia Divilly will have a big say.

Of good stock at Galway kingpins Kilkerrin-Clonberne, Divilly is a graceful forward who likes to run at pace and directly at opposition defences. She’s always one to come away from a clash with an impressive score or two, and is well able to kick frees from distance too.

Her sister and fellow Galway ace, Siobhan, is another of the NUIG side to keep an eye out for, as are Mayo forwards Doireann Hughes and Saoirse Ludden.

Eimear McAnespie (QUB / Monaghan)

Eimear McAnespie Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

A younger sister of well-known Monaghan twins Aoife and Ciara, Eimear has been making waves of her own of late and making her mark on the Farney’s senior side.

The Emyvale star impressed through the county underage set-ups before making the leap to the senior scene, doing so at ease. She’s been performing well in this year’s Lidl Ladies National Football League Division 1 so far, and tends to chip in with a few scores on each outing.

Versatile and varied, McAnespie can operate at midfield or in the forwards, using her fitness and athleticism to her advantage. That said, Queens have an extremely tough test to start off as they travel to the capital to face DCU on their home turf.

Shannon McGroddy (MU / Donegal)

Sinead McCoy and Shannon McGroddy Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Termon forward Shannon McGroddy has been a revelation as such for the Donegal seniors over the past few years. She was there in 2016 when they won the Lidl Ladies National Football League Division 2 final, and again last year when they reached the top flight decider.

They were edged by Cork but made up for it as they were crowned Ulster champions in July. They exited the All-Ireland series at the quarter-final stage at the hand of Mayo but McGroddy — an All-Ireland senior club final winner in 2014 — impressed throughout.

Her pace and skill is an asset to any team she plays on, and she’ll link up heavily with Kildare and Sarsfields forward Roisin Byrne in the Maynooth set-up again this year.

GFP HEC O’Connor Cup round one fixtures

  • University of Limerick v NUI Galway, UL Grounds, 3.30pm
  • DCU Dóchas Éireann v Queens University Belfast, DCU Sportsgrounds, 5.30pm
  • University College Cork v Maynooth University, UCC, 7pm

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