THE RACE FOR the EirGrid Leinster U21 football championship is hotting up, with four provincial fixtures down for decision on Wednesday evening.
Wicklow and Louth’s game last week was postponed due to an unplayable pitch and the counties will meet in Baltinglass for the right to play Laois in the quarter-finals.
Elsewhere, there are three quarter-finals to be decided, as holders Dublin take on Westmeath, who saw off Meath in their first round game, while Carlow’s conquerors Wexford tackle Offaly and Kildare host Longford.
Here, we take a look at a player from each county who will have a big say in the outcomes of all four matches…
1. Ryan Burns (Louth)
Louth’s march to the top of Division 3 of the Allianz Football League has been one of the stories of the season so far.
And leading the charge is Ryan Burns, scorer of 2-3 against Offaly last Sunday.
Burns notched five points, including the winner, against Longford and to start the League campaign, he collected three points in the victory over Laois.
Burns burst onto the senior inter-county stage as a 17-year-old in 2014 – and hasn’t looked back since.
2. Darragh Fitzgerald (Wicklow)
A member of the Bray Wanderers U19 squad last year, Fitzgerald is a highly-prized asset who looks like he’s committing his long-term future to Gaelic Football.
That’s good news for Wicklow as Fitzgerald, who was a minor last year, is a fast, tricky forward with a keen eye for a score.
Fitzgerald plays his club football with Arklow Geraldines Ballymoney and in 2016, he was named as the county’s minor player of the year.
Fitzgerald’s expected to shine in a Wicklow attack that also contains fellow up and coming stars Conor Byrne and Gary Allen, who’s already played senior football for the Garden County.
3. Colm Basquel (Dublin)
Colm Basquel has already his mark with the Dublin seniors in 2017, winning an O’Byrne Cup medal while also sampling game time during the Allianz League.
And last year was simply brilliant for Basquel, who scored a goal in the AIB All-Ireland club final for champions Ballyboden St Enda’s.
Basquel’s progress continued apace as he went on to capture a Leinster U21 medal with Dublin and last October, he made the bench for the All-Ireland senior football final replay with Mayo.
As Dublin go in search of a fourth successive provincial title in the U21 grade, Basquel will have a key role to play for the Sky Blues.
4. Boidu Sayeh (Westmeath)
Liberian native Boidu Sayeh has lived in Ireland since he was a young boy.
And the Rosemount player lined out in last year’s AIB Leinster intermediate club football final, when the Westmeath champions lost out to St Colmcille’s of Meath.
Sayeh played on the Westmeath team beaten by Kildare in the 2013 Leinster minor final, and was also eligible for the U18 grade in 2014.
This is his third season as an U21 player and he scored a crucial, if fortuitous, late goal from corner back to see off neighbours Meath last week.
5. Mikey Dwyer (Wexford)
A graduate of the Good Counsel (New Ross) academy, Dwyer made headlines as an up and coming young hurler but he appears to be devoting the majority of his attention to football now.
A former dual minor, Dwyer lined out against Dublin in the Leinster minor football championship defeat in 2015, and scored four points from play against the Sky Blues.
Dwyer’s made a seamless step-up to the U21 ranks, scoring 1-2 from play in last week’s comfortable victory over Carlow.
When Good Counsel bridged a 16-year gap to win the Leinster Colleges senior football A title in 2015, Dwyer played alongside Thomas O’Connor, who’s now with Southampton, and Darragh Joyce, who’s an AFL player with St. Kilda.
6. Ruairi McNamee (Offaly)
Even though he’s still an U21 player, Ruairi McNamee is already the proud holder of two Offaly senior club football medals with Rhode.
Yet to make a significant breakthrough at senior level with the county team, McNamee is still a standout player in the U21 grade, and he captained the minor team in 2014.
A brother of Conor and cousin of Niall and Alan, McNamee was an Offaly U21 in 2014, 2015 and 2016, and he had a penalty saved in last year’s Leinster senior club final defeat to St Vincent’s.
7. Conor Hartley (Kildare)
Hartley made his senior debut for Kildare in January, as the Lilywhites got their 2017 campaign off to a winning start against Longford in the O’Byrne Cup.
And when Kildare stormed to Leinster minor football championship glory in 2015, Hartley had a big say, scoring 1-1 against Longford in the final.
In the Allianz League campaign this year, Hartley came on as a late substitute in the victory over Cork, and he was also used off the bench in the opening round victory against Meath.
Hartley made the step up from the minor grade to the U21 ranks last year, and will be a key man against Longford.
8. Shane Kenny (Longford)
Kenny graduated from the minor ranks before lining out for the U21s in 2015, and again last year.
This is the Ratchline player’s third season in the U21 grade and he’s a player to keep a close eye on.
Kenny won a Longford intermediate crown with his club in 2015 and while he was used as a forward for the U21s that year, he was utilised at midfield last season.
In 2014, Kenny kicked this memorable equalising point against Kildare in the Leinster championship – but the Lilywhites triumphed in extra time:Source: MuscularChristianity/YouTube
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