1. Richie Leahy (IT Carlow & Kilkenny)
A big addition to the IT Carlow side that reached last year’s Fitzgibbon Cup final, Leahy has been lining out at midfield for DJ Carey’s side in the group stages. His exploits at U21 level last season saw him graduate to Brian Cody’s senior side, a 0-6 haul against Westmeath in a Leinster semi-final catapulting him into the frame.
He’s comfortable lining out in attack – as evidenced by his role at wing-forward for the Kilkenny senior side against Clare last Sunday – and will be a key weapon as IT Carlow look to book a last four place.
2. Peter Duggan (Limerick IT & Clare)
In Templetuohy last Thursday night Duggan signalled the threat he poses in firing 2-10 to power Limerick IT into the Fitzgibbon Cup group stages. It’s been a strong start to the season for the three-time All-Ireland U21 winner as well for the Clare senior team in posting 0-5 against Kilkenny and 0-4 against Tipperary.
His club Clooney-Quin enjoyed a meteoric rise last season in contesting their first county senior hurling decider in 73 years with Duggan contributing 0-10 in both their draw and replay loss with Sixmilebridge. He’ll be a vital part of the Limerick IT attacking strategy.
3. Eoghan O’Donnell (DCU & Dublin)
DCU pushed UCC to the wire in last year’s Fitzgibbon Cup quarter-final and will be keen to bag a last four spot this week. They have a couple of key attackers like Donal Burke and Patrick Curran but full-back Eoghan O’Donnell is also a hugely influential figure.
He has accumulated plenty experience with the Dublin senior side since making his championship debut for them in 2016.
4. Aaron Gillane (Mary Immaculate & Limerick)
It was on the Fitzgibbon Cup stage where Gillane surfaced as a capable sharpshooter last year.
He picked off 1-17 over the course of their weekend triumphs as Mary Immaculate retained their title and the Patrickswell man went on to claim the U21 Hurler of the Year award with his 0-7 haul instrumental in Limerick’s final victory over Kilkenny.
Gillane was handed his first start for the Limerick seniors in their league opener against Laois where he hit 0-11 and then followed that up with a tally of 1-8 against Offaly last Sunday.
5. John McGrath (UL & Tipperary)
An All-Ireland winner in 2016, McGrath’s attacking displays were recognised with an All-Star award at the close of that season. His stature as a result of his Tipperary performances ensures he is a major threat in the UL ranks.
McGrath fired 0-6 in their 2015 Fitzgibbon Cup final replay success, 2-7 when they lost out in the decider twelve months later and struck 0-8 when IT Carlow sprang a surprise against them at the quarter-final stage last February. He’ll be vital for UL in their quarter-final battle this Thursday.
6. Darragh Fitzgibbon (UCC & Cork)
Cork’s band of young guns provided their team with a fresh and bold approach last summer that helped yield a Munster title before they were felled by Waterford in August. Fitzgibbon’s weaving runs from midfield were a good new asset for the team and he’s now playing for UCC in his maiden Fitzgibbon Cup campaign.
It’s been mixed fortunes so far for UCC with a win over Cork IT coupled with a loss against UCD. The face a daunting challenge in travelling away to a star-studded UL side on Thursday and Fitzgibbon will be a player they hope will impress.
7. Tadhg de Búrca (Waterford & UCD)
UCD managed to top their group as they saw off both Cork outfits and now have gained home advantage for their quarter-final tie on Thursday with Dublin IT. In terms of experience, Tadhg de Búrca is the standout operator in the UCD ranks.
Manager JJ Doyle will hope they can base their challenge on the 2015 All-Star winner and Young Hurler of the Year.
8. Tommy Doyle (Westmeath & Dublin IT)
After emerging from the round-robin series in Leinster, Westmeath did not enjoy a prolonged run deep into the summer in the All-Ireland championship last year. Their exit came at the hands of Tipperary in last June’s qualifier but they did produce one of the best individual displays of the summer.
Defender Tommy Doyle placed the shackles on Seamus Callanan – the undoubted star the previous September when Tipperary triumphed in Croke Park – and kept him scoreless in an excellent rearguard showing. DIT will hope for a repeat of that type of excellence this week.
Fitzgibbon Cup quarter-finals
Wednesday, 7 February
IT Carlow v Limerick IT, IT Carlow Grounds, 7pm
DCU v Mary Immaculate College, DCU Sportsground, 7pm
Thursday, 8 February
UL v UCC, UL Grounds, 2.30pm
UCD v Dublin IT, Belfield, 7pm
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