# stars in their eyes
6 players to watch as Cork and Mayo bid for EirGrid All-Ireland U21 football glory
This sextet of rising and established stars will have a big say in the Ennis decider.

AND THEN THERE were two.

On Saturday at Cusack Park in Ennis, Cork or Mayo will succeed Tyrone as EirGrid All-Ireland U21 football champions.

We’ll be following the action LIVE while also providing a match report and reaction from the venue.

To whet your appetite for what lies in store, we’ve taken a closer look at six players who should have a key influence on proceedings.

1. Seán O’Donoghue (Cork)

Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

This could be the last time that we see Seán O’Donoghue lining out for a Cork football team at intercounty level.

He was superb against Monaghan in the semi-final, scoring four points for the Rebels but the dual player hails from Inniscarra, traditional hurling country.

O’Donoghue’s club hurlers operate in the premier intermediate ranks but the footballers are in the junior grade.

O’Donoghue is a coveted individual but he’s a member of the Cork senior hurling squad for the summer and that’s where his long-term future could lie.

2. Conor Loftus (Mayo)

James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Loftus has had his injury problems in the past but he’s been a member of Mayo’s U21 and senior squads for the past two seasons.

From the Crossmolina Deel Rovers club, Loftus was the toast of the county when he nailed two stoppage time frees in the semi-final victory over Dublin to clinch victory.

He scored three points in the 2013 All-Ireland minor final victory over Tyrone and linked up with the seniors last year as an extended panel member, while also featuring for the U21s.

Loftus underwent groin surgery twice in 2014 but now appears to be making up for lost time.

3. Peter Kelleher (Cork)

Donall Farmer / INPHO Donall Farmer / INPHO / INPHO

A real focal point for Cork on the edge of the opposition square, Peter Kelleher is one of the breakthrough stars of 2016.

He admitted recently that he hadn’t much of an interest in the GAA when Cork last won the All-Ireland U21 title in 2009 but he’s now a central figure for the Rebels as they aim to bridge a seven-year gap by claiming the crown again.

The Kilmichael clubman, 20, scored three goals during Cork’s Allianz Football League campaign – two against Roscommon and one at the Hill 16 end in the defeat to Dublin at Croke Park.

He’s hoping to banish any lingering memories of Cork’s relegation from the top flight by helping to inspire the U21s to potential national silverware.

4. Diarmuid O’Connor (Mayo)

Donall Farmer / INPHO Donall Farmer / INPHO / INPHO

Magnificent for Mayo against Dublin in the semi-final, O’Connor has carried the barnstorming form that earned him the Young Footballer of the Year award in 2015 through to this year.

A mainstay now at U21 and senior level, O’Connor is a younger brother of Cillian, a two-time Young Footballer of the Year recipient himself.

O’Connor’s ability to get around the pitch is crucial to Mayo’s hopes of ending a ten-year wait for All-Ireland U21 honours.

The Ballintubber clubman turned in a man of the match display against the Dubs and something similar would see Mayo a long way down the road in their quest for silverware.

5. Sean Powter (Cork)

James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Sean Powter made his U21 debut in the Munster final victory over Kerry to mark his return from a quad injury in style.

The Douglas player scored a brilliant first half goal before he was forced off injured but he was back fit for Cork’s All-Ireland semi-final victory over Monaghan.

He set up Peter Kelleher’s goal, hit the post with another effort and scored three points during a productive outing.

A prodigious talent, Powter was a key player for St Francis College, Rochestown, as they contested Harty Cup and Corn Uí Mhuirí finals in 2015, before representing the county in both codes at minor level.

6. Shairoze Akram (Mayo)

Donall Farmer / INPHO Donall Farmer / INPHO / INPHO

Shairoze Akram was listed among the substitutes when Mayo began their U21 campaign against Leitrim but he came off the bench to make a big impact.

His display on that occasion earned the Ballaghaderreen clubman a start in the Connacht final victory over Roscommon and he produced another big display as the holders were dethroned.

Akram was superb once again when Mayo pipped Dublin in the All-Ireland semi-final, bombing forward to provide an extra attacking option while also attending to his defensive duties.

A natural athlete, Akram kicked a first half point against the Dubs and his presence in the Mayo half-back line will be a huge asset against a Cork half-forward line with the ability to penetrate.

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