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8 players to watch in this week's Fitzgibbon Cup quarter-finals

We’ve reached the last eight of the prestigious Higher Education hurling competition.

WE’RE DOWN TO the last eight as the race for 2017 Fitzgibbon Cup glory hots up.

There are four games down for decision this week, with holders Mary Immaculate College defending their crown against NUI Galway in the first of the quarter-final fixtures on Tuesday afternoon.

At the Mardyke, UCC host DCU and then on Wednesday, last year’s runners-up University of Limerick take on League champions IT Carlow, before Davy Fitzgerald’s Limerick IT host UCD, managed by Tipperary legend Nicky English.

Here, we take a look at eight players who will have a big say in the outcomes of the four quarter-finals…

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1. Aaron Gillane (Mary I/Limerick)

Source: Ken Sutton/INPHO

Gillane was named in Limerick manager John Kiely’s extended winter training panel but it’s understood that he was let go recently. 

However, Gillane’s form at Fitzgibbon Cup level could see the Patrickswell clubman earn a recall.

Top scorer for his club in last year’s county senior hurling final, Gillane was a panel member in 2015 when Limerick won the Bord Gáis Energy All-Ireland U21 title.

And he’s been in excellent form for Fitzgibbon Cup holders Mary Immaculate College recently, scoring 3-9 against Dublin IT to help secure a home quarter-final.

2. Conor Cleary (NUIG/Clare)

Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Former Clare U21 captain Cleary is skipper of NUI Galway as they look to cause an upset against Mary I.

At club level, Cleary is a dual player with St Joseph’s Miltown (football) and Kilmaley (hurling) but his focus is very much on the small ball code for college and county.

Cleary broke onto the Clare senior team last year and he started at centre back in last Saturday’s night’s defeat to Cork. 

And as NUIG attempt to keep tabs on a free-scoring Mary I attack, Cleary is one of the players they’ll look to for defensive solidity.

3. Alan Cadogan (UCC/Cork)

Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Cadogan’s been on fire so far this year, excelling in the Co-Op Superstores.ie Munster senior hurling League and for UCC in the Fitzgibbon Cup.

Cadogan was the only Cork player to earn an All-Star nomination in 2016 and he’s carried that good form into the New Year.

The Douglas dynamo netted the winning goal in stoppage time against Limerick to seal pre-season silverware for Cork and he scored four points in Saturday’s League victory over Clare. 

UCC have won the Fitzgibbon Cup more times (38) than any other college and if they’re to end a four-year barren spell, Cadogan will have a big say.

4. Patrick Curran (DCU/Waterford)

Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Goalscorer against Kilkenny in Sunday’s Allianz Hurling League victory, Curran is making his mark early in 2017.

He’s the key man in a DCU outfit that has progressed to the last eight of the competition, with their run reviving memories of a semi-final appearance back in 1997.

Source: Enda Farrell/YouTube

DCU are outsiders with the bookmakers to upset UCC at the Mardyke but if they can get a plentiful supply of ball to Curran, the visitors could be competitive.

DCU will have Dublin’s Eoghan O’Donnell anchoring their full-back line but Curran, a 2016 Bord Gáis Energy All-Ireland U21 medallist, is the scoring source.

5. Bobby Duggan (UL/Clare)

Source: Ken Sutton/INPHO

Duggan was a prolific scorer for Clare in the underage ranks and started in the 2014 Bord Gáis Energy All-Ireland U21 final, scoring four points in a comfortable victory over Wexford.

In the next season, Duggan delivered a memorable attacking masterclass as the Banner men stunned Waterford in the Munster U21 championship. 

The Clarecastle man’s senior career has yet to really catch fire but he’s struggled with injury in recent times and is only now getting a clear run.

Duggan’s been excellent for a star-studded UL team in the Fitzgibbon Cup and in their last outing, he lofted over 12 points. 

6. Stephen Maher (IT Carlow/Laois)

Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

A free-scoring forward with Laois, Stephen ‘Picky’ Maher is now one of the hottest properties in Fitzgibbon Cup hurling.

At inter-county level, Laois suffered a disappointing League start when they lost to Kerry in the League on Sunday but Maher still managed 11 points, all from placed balls.

In 2015, Maher scored an identical tally to help his club Clough/Ballacolla to county glory in Laois and he’s continued to make headlines with big tallies.

As IT Carlow set up a Fitzgibbon quarter-final clash with UL, Maher scored 3-12 in victory over GMIT last time out.

7. Diarmaid Byrnes (LIT/Limerick)

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Limerick’s sole All-Star nominee last year, Byrnes is a player with a bright future ahead of him.

He’s a key member of the Limerick IT half-back line and is quickly developing into a top-class operator with fine catching ability and a penchant for a long-range score.

Byrnes captained Limerick to Bord Gáis Energy All-Ireland U21 glory in 2015 and is now firmly established as a senior inter-county player.

He should operate at right-half-back for LIT in a line that also contains Limerick senior colleague Barry O’Connell.

8. Tadhg de Búrca (UCD/Waterford)

Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Tadhg de Búrca has been one of the most talked about players in the country during Derek McGrath’s term as Waterford manager.

As McGrath set about revolutionising Waterford’s style of play, he employed de Búrca in the ‘sweeper’ role, or as the ‘spare man’, depending on your viewpoint.

In a more conventional centre back position on Sunday against Kilkenny, de Búrca shone like a beacon and as McGrath continues to tweak with his system, the Clashmore/Kinsalebeg clubman will remain a pivotal figure.

He’s centre back for Nicky English’s UCD, too, as they look forward to a humdinger of a Fitzgibbon Cup quarter-final against LIT on Wednesday.

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