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8 players to watch as Antrim, Waterford, Dublin and Galway chase All-Ireland final spots

The Bord Gáis Energy All-Ireland U21 hurling semi-finals are down for decision in Thurles on Saturday.

1. Maoi Connolly (Antrim)

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Although named at wing-forward for last year’s All-Ireland U21 semi-final against Wexford, Connolly was used as one of two Antrim sweepers.

It wasn’t enough to stem the tide, however, as Wexford romped to a massive win.

Antrim followers would like to see Connolly deployed in a more advanced role this time, even against the might of Waterford, as the Loughgiel Shamrocks man scored three points from play in the Ulster final victory over Derry.

2. Austin Gleeson (Waterford)

Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Talk of the town and Hurler of the Year contender on the back of his stunning senior exploits this summer.

Gleeson’s performance in the Munster U21 final victory over Tipperary will live long in the memory but he went even better with two superb displays against Kilkenny in the senior All-Ireland semi-final and replay.

On his day, Gleeson has the ability to terrorise any opposition and he’ll expect to score and create plenty against Antrim.

3. Seán Treacy (Dublin)

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Treacy was a two-goal hero in the Leinster final victory over Offaly and how has Galway in his sights.

The lethal inside forward is fast making a name for himself and along with brother and senior county star David, the pair combined for 2-8 when Cuala claimed county senior hurling glory last year against St Jude’s.

Treacy was also very much to the fore when Dublin ended Wexford’s four-in-a-row hopes in the Leinster U21 championship – bagging 1-5 to help floor the Slaneysiders.

4. Conor Whelan (Galway)

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Having taken the senior stage by storm as a 19-year-old in 2015, Whelan’s struggled to live up to those lofty standards this summer.

Galway bowed out of the senior championship last Sunday at the All-Ireland semi-final stage and while Whelan managed to score two points from play, it was a disappointing day for the Tribesmen.

But Whelan does have the chance to claim some silverware in the U21 grade, while at the same time attempting to atone for last year’s disappointing last-four defeat against eventual winners Limerick.

5. Saul McCaughan (Antrim)

Source: Presseye/John McIwaine/INPHO

McCaughan was named at North Antrim’s joint-player of the year in 2015 and the Ballycastle man is an accurate free-taker.

Chances could be few and far between for the Saffrons against a formidable Waterford side and McCaughan, who’s already an established senior inter-county player, will have to nail everything that presents itself.

A former minor star, this is McCaughan’s third season in the U21 grade and his blistering pace could cause some problems for Waterford from general play.

6. Conor Gleeson (Waterford)

Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Gleeson is surely a defensive mainstay for the Waterford senior team for many years to come.

Rated by John Mullane as the best man-marker on the Waterford senior panel, Gleeson enjoyed plenty of recent senior game-time and made his full debut against Kilkenny in the drawn All-Ireland semi-final.

The Fourmilewater man is playing in the full-back line for the Waterford U21s but can also fulfil a role in the half-back division if required.

7. Eoghan O’Donnell (Dublin)

Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

O’Donnell had a big call to make earlier in the year but the dual player opted for hurling over football.

That makes him something of a rarity in Dublin GAA circles but the DCU student was rewarded with starts in all of the county senior team’s Allianz League outings – and in the three championship outings against Wexford, Kilkenny and Cork.

O’Donnell, from the Whitehall Colmcille club, is a tenacious man-marker who has shown that he can step up to the mark on the big stage.

8. Sean Loftus (Galway)

Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Captain of the Galway minor hurlers that won the All-Ireland title last year, Loftus is now a member of the U21 set-up.

A string of impressive displays earned Loftus the 2015 Galway minor hurler of the year award and he’s expected to continue his impressive progress in the U21 and senior grades, in time.

Named at corner forward in last year’s minor final, Loftus played the sweeper role instead and played it to perfection, while also picking off a point.

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