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8 players to watch in this week's Leinster U21 football quarter-finals

Here are eight key men tipped to shine in the EirGrid provincial championship this week

THERE’S FOUR QUARTER-finals down for decision this week in the Eirgrid Leinster U21 football championship.

Here are eight players we expect to shine on Wednesday and Thursday evening.

1. Conor McHugh (Dublin)

It’s no surprise that Dublin are favourites to retain their Leinster and All-Ireland U21 crowns, with players of McHugh’s calibre on board.

Dessie Farrell’s starting team to face Laois at O’Moore Park on Wednesday night features seven players who started against Roscommon in last year’s All-Ireland decider.

Conor McHugh was man of the match on that occasion, bagging 1-6 against the Rossies, and while he’ll have to bide his time for a major senior breakthrough, McHugh would probably walk onto the vast majority of other teams in the country.

And the red-hot hitman is buzzing after playing a key role for DCU in their recent Sigerson Cup final victory over UCC.

Conor McHugh Conor McHugh was man of the match in last year's All-Ireland U21 final Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

2. Tom Shiels (Laois)

Former minor star Tom Shiels was prominent for the Laois U21s in their recent victory over Wexford.

Shiels, a member of the IT Carlow Sigerson Cup panel this year, struck two crucial goals as the O’Moore boys recovered from a rocky start to book their place in the last eight.

Shiels made his senior intercounty debut in 2013 and the Stradbally man has been marked out as a potential star of the future.

He scored 2-2 against Wexford and Laois will need Shiels in the mood to have any chance of upsetting red-hot favourites Dublin in Portlaoise.

Tom Shiels Can Tom Shiels find a goal touch again to upset Dublin? Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

3. Ryan Burns (Louth)

Louth star Ryan Burns became one of the county’s hottest prospects after he starred for Hunterstown Rovers in their march to a Leinster junior football club final in 2013.

Burns, who completed his Leaving Certificate last year, also has pedigree in the Leinster U21 championship, having scored 2-12 in two games against Meath last year.

Burns also scored a goal after coming off the bench for the seniors in the 2014 Leinster championship victory against Westmeath but he’s no longer an unknown quantity.

At 6ft 1″ tall, Burns is a real handful for opposition defences and he scored 1-5 against Carlow in the first round.

Ryan Burns 17/5/2014 Ryan Burns is one of the most talked about players in Louth's recent history Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

4. Rory Connor (Longford)

Michael Quinn may have grabbed the headlines in DCU’s recent Sigerson Cup final victory but another Longford man, Rory Connor, also collected a coveted medal.

And Connor was one of Longford’s goalscorers in their massive first round victory over Wicklow.

Connor, from the Kenagh club, was a stand-out minor with the Midlanders and has been making rapid progress ever since.

He scored a point two years ago as Longford shocked then All-Ireland champions Dublin in the Leinster U21 championship at Parnell Park.

Rory Connor Rory Connor is a recent Sigerson Cup medallist with DCU Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

5. Padraic Harnan (Meath)

In 2013, Padraic Harnan made his senior championship debut for Meath in their Leinster semi-final victory over Wexford at Croke Park.

Harnan, who has played in defence and attack, is a nephew of Meath’s former All-Ireland winner Liam and the bloodline is certainly strong.

The UCD agriculture student was Meath GAA young footballer of the year in 2013 and he continues to emerge as a player of real strength and substance.

Now a fully-fledged Meath senior, Moynalvey player Harnan was also a member of the U21 team beaten by Dublin in last year’s Leinster final.

Padraic Harnan 20/7/2014 Padraic Harnan is already an established Meath senior player Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

6. Ray Connellan (Westmeath)

Ray Connellan was one of the few bright spots to emerge from Westmeath’s forgettable Allianz League campaign in 2014.

And the Athlone man’s form was rewarded with a senior championship debut against Louth last summer.

Connellan has also featured prominently for the Lake County this year as they continue to push for promotion from Division 2.

And Westmeath will need Connellan’s trusty left book in full working order against local rivals Meath to have a chance of progressing in what promises to be a fiercely-contested affair.

Ray Connellan and Dessie Finnegan Ray Connellan will be in action tonight. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

7. Conor McNamee (Offaly)

McNamee was Offaly minor footballer of the year 2012 and has since graduated to the U21 and senior ranks.

McNamee, a cousin of Faithful County hitman Niall, has been busy carving his own niche with county and club Rhode in recent seasons.

Midfielder Conor, who played with UL in the Sigerson Cup this year, is one of the key men for Offaly as they prepare for a repeat meeting with Kildare in the Leinster U21 football championship.

McNamee, who captained St Mary’s Edenderry to Leinster A colleges glory in 2012, was in excellent scoring form for Rhode on their march to an AIB Leinster club football final last year and lined out at midfield alongside cousin Alan in the St Vincent’s defeat.

Conor McNamee Conor McNamee in action for Rhode in last year's Leinster club final Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

8. Niall Kelly (Kildare)

Kelly was one of the UCD stars in their recent Sigerson Cup campaign, and was particularly good in the quarter-final victory over GMIT.

The Athy man also showed up well in UCD’s semi-final defeat to eventual winners DCU and will now turn his attentions to U21 duty with Kildare.

The Lilywhites are wary of neighbours Offaly, who have beaten them twice in recent seasons in the provincial championship.

Kelly made his senior Kildare debut in the 2013 O’Byrne Cup final against Dublin and is tipped to start at full-forward against Offaly, where he could wreak some havoc.

Niall Kelly Ê Niall Kelly is one of Kildare's most talented forwards Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

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About the author:

Jackie Cahill

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