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9 young Gaelic footballers to watch in 2020

You might be hearing a lot about these players in the coming season.

A NEW YEAR is here and the start of the Allianz Football League later this month will provide young talent with opportunities to impress on the senior scene.

We’ve picked out nine youngsters who are ready to make the step up this season. 


1. Peadar Ó Cofaigh Byrne (Dublin)

sean-meehan-and-peadar-o-cofaigh-byrne Dublin's Peadar Ó Cofaigh Byrne during the 2019 All-Ireland U20 final. Source: Ken Sutton/INPHO

The UCD student provided midfield cover on Dublin’s bench for last year’s All-Ireland final and will be expecting to make further strides under new boss Dessie Farrell this year.

Standing at 6’6″, Ó Cofaigh Byrne starred for the U20s during their run to the Leinster title and All-Ireland final, while he frequently went toe-to-toe with Brian Fenton at senior training.

He made his debut against Tyrone in the Super 8s and is highly rated within the squad.

He may be the natural successor to the 33-year-old Michael Darragh Macauley, who will probably be handed some time off in the spring months following his extended club campaign with Ballyboden.

2. Oisin Mullin (Mayo)

oisin-mullin Mayo’s Oisin Mullin at the AFL Combine in UCD last month. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

After starring for the U20s on their run to the Connacht final last summer, Mullin showed enough to earn a senior call-up from James Horan mid-season. 

He made the bench for their Super 8s tie against Dublin last year and he’ll likely be given game time during the league as Horan assesses his defensive options.

Mullin, who can play at corner-back or wing-back, is arriving on the scene at a good time with a number of Mayo’s starting defenders well into their 30s. He tasted Connacht junior club success with Kilmaine earlier this year – winning man of the match in the final – and previously won a schools All-Ireland with Ballinrobe in 2017. 

Mullin was part of an experimental Mayo outfit that defeated the Underdogs in October. A fine athlete, he also took part in the AFL Combine at UCD in December.

3. Mark Cronin (Cork)

mark-cronin-scores-a-goal Mark Cronin scores his side's second goal in the All-Ireland U20 final. Source: Ken Sutton/INPHO

Cronin is one of a number of promising youngsters emerging from the Rebel County that are expected to be blooded in Division 3 over the coming months.

A high-scoring corner-forward, he grabbed five points from play in the Munster U20 final defeat of Kerry last July and dispatched 1-3 past the Dubs in the All-Ireland decider.

The young Nemo Rangers star was named as one of the top 20 players from last year’s U20 competition, while he was narrowly pipped to the Munster player of the year award by county team-mate Cathal O’Mahony – who is also an exciting talent.

4. Ciaran Archer (Dublin)

ciaran-archer Dublin U20s sharpshooter Ciaran Archer. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The reigning U20 Footballer of the Year, Archer quickly rose to prominence last summer after putting in a number of eye-catching displays.

The 18-year-old posted a stunning tally of 10-35 in five games for Tom Gray’s side, who fell to Cork in the All-Ireland final.

He’s eligible to play U20 again this season so Dessie Farrell may well decide that the best option for Archer’s development is to finish out his underage career. Dublin are not short of forwards on the senior panel so Archer might have to bide his time to make a breakthrough. 

Hailing from the St Maurs club in Rush, Archer had soccer trials at English side Yeovil Town but decided against pursuing a career across the water.

5. Damien Gore (Cork)

damien-gore-and-dan-mccarthy Cork’s Damien Gore in action against Kerry in the McGrath Cup. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Gore looked set to make his senior breakthrough last season, having featured four times under Ronan McCarthy in the 2019 league. But an ankle injury in May scuppered his senior ambitions, leaving Gore free to focus on the U20s once he returned.

He formed a devastating full-forward line alongside Cronin and O’Mahony as the Rebels swept Munster and All-Ireland U20 honours.

A tally of 3-5 from play against Kerry in the McGrath Cup last weekend indicates the Kilmacabea ace is ready for the big stage.

6. Conor Turbitt (Armagh) 

conor-mccluskey-and-conor-turbitt Derry's Conor McCluskey is tackled by Conor Turbitt of Armagh U20s. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Turbit is another young forward who has taken his opportunity in the inter-county pre-season competitions. 

Handed his senior bow by Kieran McGeeney in the McKenna Cup against Cavan, Turbit looked at home in a full-forward line alongside Rian O’Neill and Jason Duffy. The rookie scored both of Armagh’s goals, finishing with 2-2 at Breffni Park. 

Turbit provides McGeeney with another option in attack as talented footballers continue to roll off the Orchard Academy production line. The star attacker for the Armagh U20s last summer, the Clann Eireann man will hope to be given more playing time over the coming weeks.

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7. Diarmuid Whelan (Laois)

kieran-kennedy-and-diarmuid-whelan Dublin's Kieran Kennedy takes on Diarmuid Whelan of Laois. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The Laois U20 captain was also named as one of the top 20 U20 football players in Ireland in 2019. 

The O’Moore County dumped out 2018 All-Ireland champions Kildare on their run to the Leinster final, where they lost to Dublin. The Ballyroan-Abbey forward Whelan hit 28 points in four games for Billy O’Loughlin’s side during an impressive campaign. 

The Kingston brothers Donie and Paul have opted out of the senior squad for 2020, leaving new manager Mike Quirke on the look-out for fresh scoring talent. Whelan could be the man that stands to benefit most from their absence. 

8. Conor Quinn (Tyrone)

conor-quinn-celebrates-with-the-maclarnon-cup St. Ciaran’s captain Conor Quinn celebrates with the MacLarnon Cup in 2017. Source: Presseye/William Cherry/INPHO

Full-back on the Tyrone U20s side that were beaten in the Ulster final last year, Quinn was named as one of the best seven defenders in the country at the grade. 

Mikey Harte recently called him up to the senior panel on the back of Quinn’s fine form during Galbally’s run to the Ulster intermediate club final.

The full-back also captained St Ciaran’s Ballygawley to an All-Ireland final place in 2017.

9. Oisin Gallen (Donegal)

oisin-gallen-celebrates-scoring-a-goal Oisín Gallen celebrates scoring a goal against Meath. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

A rising star of Donegal football, Gallen enjoyed a remarkable first season with the Donegal seniors in 2019.

Still only 18, he fired a point as a substitute against Cavan in the Ulster final, grabbed 1-1 against Meath in the Super 8s before posting two points against Kerry a week later.

He shot 2-9 for his club Sean MacCumhaills during one Donegal SFC game last summer and later travelled to Australia for AFL trials. With a year of senior inter-county football already under his belt, Gallen is expected to make further strides in 2020.

He’ll bolster an already powerful forward line that includes Michael Murphy, Paddy McBrearty and Jamie Brennan.

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About the author:

Kevin O'Brien

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