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Rising Stars - 15 young hurlers who hit the headlines in 2016

We’ll be seeing plenty more from this lot in the years to come…

pjimage (3) Seamus Kennedy, Austin Gleeson and Aaron Shanagher impressed in 2016. Source: INPHO

WATERFORD STAR AUSTIN Gleeson was the choice of his peers for the two coveted individual hurling awards this year.

At the GAA/GPA Opel All-Stars bash, Gleeson went home with an All-Star award, along with the Hurler and Young Hurler of the Year gongs.

The Mount Sion player is an exceptional talent but this was a year that saw many young players emerge to make big impacts.

We’ve grouped them into different categories and, as always, we’re looking for your feedback on our selections.

U23

Jamie Barron (Waterford)

Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

David Burke was considered pretty much an automatic selection on the All-Star team at midfield after a brilliant season for Galway. Partnership him in the annual selection is Jamie Barron, whose consistency for Waterford was a big part of their campaign.

The former minor and U21 star made his senior debut back in 2013 and has plenty of years of top level fare ahead of him. Barron was man of the match in the All-Ireland quarter-final victory over Wexford but caught the eye right through the summer.

Alan Cadogan (Cork)

Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

It was another underwhelming season for Cork but Alan Cadogan salvaged some pride when he was named as the county’s sole All-Star hurling nominee.

Cork’s marquee forwards didn’t perform in their championship opener against Tipperary but Caodgan did well nonetheless, hitting three points from play and giving Michael Cahill plenty to think about. Cadogan scored 1-5 as Cork saw off Dublin in a thrilling qualifier and while not as prominent in the championship exit to Wexford, it was a good campaign for the Douglas man.

Seamus Kennedy (Tipperary)

Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Kennedy made a big call this year when he decided to leave the Tipperary senior football panel to link up with the hurlers. A Munster club football medallist with Clonmel Commercials, hurling is Kennedy’s first love and he plays for the St Mary’s club in the town.

Kennedy was one of Tipperary’s unsung heroes in their march to All-Ireland glory, rock-solid and consistent at right-half-back.

Dan McCormack (Tipperary)

Source: James Crombie/INPHO

In the eyes of many, Dan McCormack was a surprise inclusion in the Tipperary team this year, but the Borris-Ileigh man more than justified his place. He might not have scored until the final but McCormack played a pivotal role, as this excellent piece of work from local journalist Brian McDonnell illustrates. In terms of turnovers and tackles, McCormack was a key man and his selfless work allowed others around him to profit.

Tony Kelly (Clare)

Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Clare might not have gone as far in the championship as they would have liked but Tony Kelly won them a first National Hurling League title since 1978 with two late points in the final replay victory over Waterford.

Kelly’s overall form earned him an All-Star nomination and he’s been in superb form later in the year for his club, as Ballyea won a first Clare title before storming to provincial glory.

U22

John McGrath (Tipperary)

Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

A magnificent full debut season for John McGrath saw him earn an All-Star award and a host of plaudits. McGrath hit the high notes in the 21-point Munster final victory over Waterford, scoring a hat-trick of goals.

The Loughmore-Castleiney man added a major in the All-Ireland semi-final victory over Galway, and another in the memorable September final win against Kilkenny. McGrath crowned a memorable year by helping his club to county senior football championship glory.

Michael Breen (Tipperary)

Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

With Shane McGrath and James Woodlock both retiring after the 2015 campaign, Tipperary had holes to plug in midfield. Captain Brendan Maher dropped back there after playing at centre forward during Eamon O’Shea’s final year in charge and he was partnered by Michael Breen, another breakthrough star.

With Maher sitting a little deeper, Breen was afforded the licence to get forward and provide another attacking option and a scoring touch. He might not have hit the high notes in the All-Ireland final but the Ballina man was excellent until then.

Diarmaid Byrnes (Limerick)

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Captain of Limerick’s Bord Gáis Energy All-Ireland U21 winning team in 2015, Diarmaid Byrnes continued his progress by earning an All-Star nomination at the end of the season gone by.

The Patrickswell clubman made his senior championship debut against Tipperary and he was one of the more impressive performers in the qualifier victory over Westmeath. Limerick bowed out at the hands of neighbours Clare but Byrnes managed three points from play in Thurles.

U21

Ronan Maher (Tipperary)

Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Captain of Tipperary’s U21 hurlers this year, Ronan Maher made his mark more with the seniors, who won the All-Ireland title. One of the team’s best players throughout the Allianz League campaign, Maher anchored the pivotal centre half back position brilliantly.

A tower of strength in the central role, and flanked by brother Pádraic and Seamus Kennedy, this was a key line for Tipp. Maher’s consistency earned him an All-Star and a Young Hurler of the Year nomination.

Austin Gleeson (Waterford)

Source: Photosport/Donall Farmer/INPHO

We’ve run out of superlatives to describe this guy. Simply colossal for Waterford this year and could have done with a delivery van to bring home his haul of gongs from All-Star night. Gleeson might not have sparkled in the Munster final, and mixed the good with the bad against Wexford, but he was excellent in a number of key matches.

Nailing down Gleeson’s long-term home could yet remain a conundrum for Waterford as he can play equally well at centre back, centre forward or even midfield. Already one of the most complete hurlers in the game, Gleeson will feel that he can get even better with more experience.

Liam Blanchfield (Kilkenny)

Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

As Kilkenny manager Brian Cody tinkered with his side after the All-Ireland semi-final stalemate against Waterford, in came Liam Blanchfield for a senior championship debut. Blanchfield rewarded Cody’s faith by scoring three points from play as the Cats edged a classic rematch.

Earlier in his career, Blanchfield claimed two Croke Cup medals with St Kieran’s, an All-Ireland minor medal with Kilkenny, and he’s also won All-Ireland junior and intermediate club medals with Bennettsbridge.

Conor McDonald (Wexford)

Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Wexford might have been hammered by Dublin in their Leinster championship opener, but Conor McDonald and Liam Óg McGovern left Croke Park with their heads held high.

And when the Slaneysiders regrouped in the qualifiers, McDonald played a big part. He scored 11 points against Offaly and bettered that with a massive 13-point haul as the Model County claimed a first senior championship victory over Cork since 1956.

U20

Conor Gleeson (Waterford)

Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Conor Gleeson is rated by former Waterford forward John Mullane as the best man-marker in the county’s current senior squad. And when Darragh Fives went off injured early against Wexford in the All-Ireland quarter-final, Conor Gleeson stepped in to produce an assured display.

With Fives still out injured for the All-Ireland semi-final, Gleeson earned a start and did extremely well against Kilkenny, retaining his place for the replay. Gleeson capped his inter-county season by winning an All-Ireland U21 medal before helping The Nire to an AIB Munster senior club football final appearance.

Patrick Curran (Waterford)

Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Another member of the county’s U21 set-up that stormed to All-Ireland honours, Curran also emerged as a senior force to be reckoned with, after debuting at championship level in 2015.

Curran was excellent during the Allianz League campaign and will be hoping for a more consistent championship season next year. He reserved much of his best form for the U21 grade, where Waterford were unstoppable, and the Dungarvan forward is tipped to become a consistent star into the future.

U19

Aaron Shanagher (Clare)

Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Aaron Shanagher stormed to national prominence when he came off the bench to leave a trail of defenders in his wake before notching a decisive goal in the Allianz League quarter-final victory over Tipperary at Cusack Park.

In the All-Ireland senior qualifier, Shanagher made his mark with a hat-trick of goals against Laois at the Ennis venue. Shanagher, from the Wolfe Tones club, also scored a point in the qualifier victory over neighbours Limerick and will hope for an extended run in the team under new joint-managers Donal Moloney and Gerry O’Connor in 2017.

Do you agree with our selections? Who have we omitted? Leave your feedback in the comments section below…

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