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The young and the restless: 6 young footballers to watch out for this summer

Remember the names.

Dublin – Jack McCaffrey

Pic: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

WHEN TADHG KENNELLY travelled to Ireland to oversee an AFL training camp in Tallaght in February of 2012, he was blown away by the sprinting ability of one young Dublin footballer in particular. Jack McCaffrey’s lightning speed over 20 metres left Kerry’s 2009 All-Ireland SFC medallist drooling.

McCaffrey was so quick over the distance that if he was based in Australia, he would have been the top sprinter in the previous year’s AFL draft, the cream of the country’s 18-year-olds. The Clontarf star made his Dublin senior debut against Laois last year and he has enjoyed an extended run in Jim Gavin’s team in 2013. He’s the epitome of the modern day wing-back – strong, mobile and well able to take a score. He’s also the son of Dr. Noel McCaffrey, a leading sports medic who played for Dublin in the 1980s and 1990s.

And Jack was one of four players called in by ex-Dublin boss Pat Gilroy to his senior squad on the back of All-Ireland U21 success in 2012. McCaffrey also played in the 2011 All-Ireland minor final and, following in his father’s footsteps, he’s studying to become a doctor.

Tyrone – Niall Morgan

Pic: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

Tyrone boss Mickey Harte has found himself a top class goalkeeper and a colourful character too in Niall Morgan. In last month’s National League Division 1 final against Dublin, Morgan emerged as his side’s leading scorer with 0-5 from placed balls. A newcomer to the Tyrone set up this year, Morgan has modelled his game on Dublin goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton. The 21-year-old netminder played soccer with Dungannon Swifts for the last two seasons but he couldn’t turn down Mickey Harte’s invitation to join the Tyrone squad. And Harte’s faith in Morgan has been justified as the new number 1 has seen off competition from Pascal McConnell and John Devine (now retired) to claim the coveted goalkeeping position on a long-term basis.

Morgan kicked 0-18 for Tyrone during the National League campaign and the Edendork player is a smart bet to open his championship account against Donegal.

Cork – Damien Cahalane

Pic: INPHO/Lorraine O’Sullivan

DAMIEN Cahalane made a big call earlier this year when he decided to commit exclusively to the Cork footballers for the 2013 season.

Cork senior hurling team manager Jimmy Barry-Murphy was naturally disappointed but Cahalane decided that it was impossible to combine both codes at such a high level.

The talented defender captained Cork to glory in this year’s Cadbury Munster U21 football championship and the Rebels went all the way to the All-Ireland final, before losing to Galway. And Cahalane believes that leaving the hurley to one side, for now, is benefiting his football.

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He made his first appearance for Cork in the All-Ireland senior hurling championship last year, lining out at full-back against Wexford in the qualifiers. Cahalane also helped his club Castlehaven to Cork SFC glory, before they lost the Munster final against Kerry’s Dr. Crokes.

He made his senior football debut for the Rebels in the McGrath Cup earlier this year and his first championship appearance is sure to follow shortly.

Donegal – Ryan McHugh

Pic: INPHO/Presseye/Andrew Paton

The bloodline is certainly strong in young Donegal star Ryan McHugh. Son of 1992 All-Ireland medallist Martin, Ryan is a brother of Mark, who was inspirational in the county’s march to All-Ireland glory last year. McHugh has tough acts to follow but the Kilcar gem is busy carving his own niche in the game. An IT Sligo student, Ryan was called up to the Donegal senior squad for the 2013 season by manager Jim McGuinness. And he made his senior League debut against Down when in a 0-12 to 0-7 victory in Ballybofey on February 9. Donegal may have endured relegation to Division 2 but the emergence of McHugh was one of the big positives to come from the campaign. He’s a versatile player and similar to Martin and Mark, blessed with a brilliant engine. Ryan is also viewed as a future leader of men and he captained the Donegal minor team of 2012.

Kerry – Mark Griffin

INPHO/Presseye/Russell Pritchard

MARK Griffin was a virtual unknown outside of Kerry before the start of this year’s National League campaign.

But when the Kingdom took a major step towards preserving their Division 1 status with victory over Cork in Tralee back in March, Griffin was one of the outstanding players on show.

It was just his second senior League outing but in the pivotal full-back position, Griffin’s display was a major factor in restricting bitter Munster rivals Cork to just 0-7. That performance included one memorable challenge on Aidan Walsh that denied the marauding Cork midfielder a goal.

The St Michael’s/Foilmore player is now hotly tipped for his first taste of championship action this summer. And there’s plenty of pedigree as Griffin emerged from the minor ranks to captain Kerry’s U21s in 2011. Griffin is also a 2009 All-Ireland intermediate medallist with his club and his emergence as a potential intercounty senior star has provided boss Eamonn Fitzmaurice with a welcome selection headache.

Mayo – Evan Regan

MAYO footballers welcomed a new star in January 2012 when Evan Regan made his debut in a low-key FBD League clash against GMIT in Ballinrobe. At Flanagan Park, Danny Kirby grabbed the headlines with a four-goal salvo but he was quick to credit Regan’s hard-working contribution.

Regan got on the mark himself on that Sunday afternoon, scoring a point to kickstart life as a senior player in the green and red. Regan benefited from a tough year of strength and conditioning work under Cian O’Neill in his debut season on James Horan’s panel. And Regan has continued on the right track this year, notching 0-3 against Kildare in the National League. Horan has hinted that Regan is ready for the big championship step-up but a recent injury has hampered the young Ballina star’s progress. He was the star of the show in successive county minor football championship finals and one strike in the 2011 decider provided local observers with a tantalising glimpse of Regan’s vast potential. Regan is not short of confidence and he also boasts a lightning turn of pace and a devastating left foot.

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About the author:

Jackie Cahill

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