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Eyes peeled! 9 young Gaelic footballers to watch in 2018

It could be a big season for this bunch of players.

pjimage (4) Kerry's Sean O'Shea, Dublin's Brian Howard and Tyrone's Frank Burns could be set for a major season. Source: INPHO

THE 2018 ALLIANZ football leagues commence on Saturday week as the new season gets set to swing into gear.

New faces are bound to crop up and here’s nine players we think could be set for a major breakthrough campaign this year.

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1. Cian Johnson (Offaly – Ferbane)

HE HASN’T YET started a senior championship game for his club Ferbane, but Cian Johnson dispatched 1-3 in his first start for Offaly against Wexford in the O’Byrne Cup, before he took the Dublin defence for 0-6 in Round 2 three days later.

Johnson shone for Offaly in last year’s Leinster MFC, scoring 2-13 from play over three games against Wexford, Westmeath and Louth.

The 18-year-old Leaving Cert student is the brightest young talent in the county, but he might not feature for the seniors in the championship.

Gerry Seaver with Cian Johnston Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

Last February Congress passed the motion to alter the U21 grade to U20, which means that any player named on a senior inter-county championship panel is not eligible to play with the U20s.

But a recent Offaly county board ruling states that U20s must play their own grade, meaning that Johnson may have to wait for his senior championship bow. However, that rule could yet be revised if Johnson’s good form carries into Offaly’s Division 3 league campaign.

2. Sean O’Shea (Kerry – Kenmare)

The Kingdom spotlight will invariably fall on David Clifford’s development this season but given there’s already plenty attention given to his talents, it’s worth pointing out the potential for another Kerry prospect to emerge.

Sean O’Shea has two All-Ireland minor medals to his credit from 2015 and 2016, captaining Kerry to the latter success. He made the step up to the U21 ranks seamlessly last spring as Kerry swept the board in Munster and got recruited to Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s senior squad last summer.

Sean O'Shea Kerry footballer Sean O'Shea. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

O’Shea did not get exposed to senior championship fare in 2017 but it seems a matter of time. A brilliant ball-playing attacker, he is also reliable from placed balls and his progress will be worth tracking.

3. Darragh Cummins (Sligo – Calry/St Joseph’s)

Sligo U21 captain in 2017, Darragh Cummins played a key role in the team’s run to their first Connacht final since 2012 last year. He posted four points in a man-of-the-match display from midfield in the semi-final win over Roscommon, but Sligo were well-beaten by Galway in the final.

Cummins was a talented rugby player in his teens and spent five years playing with Connacht’s underage teams as a powerful inside centre. He even featured for Ireland at U18s, but the lure of the Sligo jersey saw him turn his back on the oval ball in favour of Gaelic football.

Cummins is expected to make his mark with DCU during next month’s Sigerson Cup campaign, while new Sligo boss Cathal Corey handed him his senior debut at wing-back against Galway in the Connacht FBD League opener.

Darragh Cummins and Ciarán Brady Darragh Cummins in action against Galway as a minor in 2015 Source: Mike Shaughnessy/INPHO

4. Brian Howard (Dublin – Raheny)

Dublin’s squad is well-stocked with options but the products of last April’s All-Ireland U21 triumph will be eager to push for inclusion this season. Brian Howard bounced on from that win over Galway to make his way into Jim Gavin’s senior squad last summer and looks capable of jumping up another few rungs in the ladder.

Brian Howard Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Howard tasted senior championship action when Dublin blitzed Westmeath in Leinster last summer and that will surely have whetted his appetite. He is a versatile operator having played corner-back in this year’s O’Byrne Cup, centre-back at minor level and midfield for that U21 triumph. He received a glowing recommendation recently from Diarmuid Connolly when the St Vincent’s man spoke to the ‘Blue Is The Colour’ podcast.

5. Frank Burns (Tyrone – Pomeroy)

A Tyrone senior panelist since 2016, Frank Burns handed a sharp reminder to Mickey Harte of his talent with a tally of 1-4 and man-of-the-match honours in Tyrone’s McKenna Cup opener against Antrim.

Burns came off the bench for the Red Hand in their Round 2 win over St Mary’s, where he replaced the black-carded Peter Harte on 49 minutes.

The Pomeray clubman featured at midfield in Tyrone’s 2015 All-Ireland U21 success, while he’s been a regular for Ulster University in the Sigerson Cup in recent seasons.

A fine athlete, Burns delivered several big displays in Pomeray’s run to the last four of the Tyrone SFC last year, where they were edged out by Errigal Ciaran.

Darragh Kennedy with Frank Burns Frank Burns in action for Tyrone against Cavan in the Dr McKenna Cup. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

6. Sean Andy Ó Ceallaigh (Galway – Leitir Mór)

Galway may have lost last year’s U21 football decider but Sean Andy Ó Ceallaigh’s reputation was only enhanced in defeat. He produced a towering defensive display when facing with Dublin’s star-studded forward line.

Ó Ceallaigh would later opt to spend a summer in the USA instead of linking up with Kevin Walsh’s senior squad. But he seems set to be an integral part of Galway’s plans and ambitions for the 2018 campaign, starting with their adjustment to life in Division 1 of the Allianz football league.

Ryan O'Donoghue with Sean Andy Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

7. Dean Connolly (Monaghan – Killanny)

The youngest member of Malachy O’Rourke’s squad is Dean Connolly, who’s been pitched in straight from minor ranks.

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Connolly skippered the Farney U18s in 2017 and he bagged two points from midfield in their Ulster quarter-final loss to Cavan last May. Last October he starred for Killanny as they delivered the Monaghan minor ‘A’ title for the first time in the club’s history, scoring a cracking goal in the decider with a run from inside his own half.

The 18-year-old is a talented sportsman and was on the books of Monaghan United up until 2016.

Standing at 6’2″, Connolly featured as a defensive midfielder for the Monaghan United-Cavan Football Partnership side in the League of Ireland U17 league for two seasons. Now he’s firmly focused on making an impact for Monaghan on the GAA field.

Dean Connolly with Eoin Beacom Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

8. Stephen Sherlock (Cork – St Finbarr’s)

Given the changing face of the Cork squad, there is a clear opportunity for youngsters to step into the breach at senior level. Stephen Sherlock netted the match-winning goal in Saturday’s McGrath Cup final, the latest suggestion that he could make his mark in an attacking sense.

A Cork U21 in 2016 and 2017, Sherlock has struck 2-10 in Cork’s two pre-season January outings. Those scoring traits surfaced when he starred in St Finbarr’s run to the 2017 Cork senior football decider, hitting 2-15 over the course of the drawn game and replay against eventual Munster kingpins Nemo Rangers.

He’s a scoring option new manager Ronan McCarthy will hope to utilise this spring.

Stephen Sherlock Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

9. Brian Reape (Mayo – Moy Davitts)

In 2016 Reape was first drafted into the Mayo senior squad by manager Stephen Rochford but he hasn’t managed to force his way into the reckoning over the past two campaigns. After being released after last spring’s league, the DCU student travelled to America last summer.

He illustrated his attacking potential while featuring in the Mayo underage ranks and was crucial to his club Moy Davitts finishing first in the county intermediate race last season. Reape bagged four goals in an early January challenge against NUI Galway and shot 0-4 against Galway in the FBD League last Friday night. He has the capacity to push on.

Brian Reape with Sean McMahon and Shane Clayton Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Compiled by Fintan O’Toole and Kevin O’Brien.

What young player do you think will make a breakthrough this year?

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