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10 players to watch in the Munster U21 hurling championship

The Bord Gáis Energy provincial campaign gets underway this week and here are the stars to keep an eye on.

1. Ronan Lynch (Limerick)

Ronan Lynch 13/7/2014 Will Ronan Lynch start in defence or attack for the Limerick U21s? Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Lynch played three years at minor level for Limerick, winning two Munster championships, and is now in his debut year as an U21.

An outstanding talent, Lynch scored 0-6 for winners Ardscoil Rís in the first all-Limerick Harty Cup final against Scoil na Tríonóide Naofa, Doon, last year.

While still eligible for the U16 grade, Lynch banged over 0-11 against Cork in the opening round of the 2012 Munster minor championship, before going on to claim provincial medals in 2013 and 2014.

Current Leaving Certificate student Lynch, who can operate in defence or attack, is also the proud holder of Limerick and Munster senior club hurling medals with Na Piarsaigh.

2. John McGrath (Tipperary)

John McGrath John McGrath is tipped for a senior championship debut next Sunday. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

McGrath made a big impact for Tipperary in this year’s Allianz League campaign and is tipped for a senior championship debut against Limerick next Sunday.

The Loughmore-Castleiney player, younger brother of Noel and cousin of 2011 All-Ireland minor football winning captain Liam, scored two points against Galway on his debut before slotting over five in the Cusack Park victory over Clare.

McGrath was then laid low by a pelvic injury and only returned for the U21 footballers as a late substitute in the All-Ireland final defeat at the hands of Tyrone.

The former dual All-Ireland minor medallist scored 2-5 against Dublin in a challenge match last month, to mark his return to senior action.

3. Shane O’Donnell (Clare)

O’Donnell became a household name following that stunning hat-trick against Cork in the 2013 All-Ireland senior hurling final replay.

But he’s still eligible for the U21 grade and if Clare retain their Munster and All-Ireland crowns, O’Donnell will have three provincial and three national medals in this grade.

Source: RTÉ Sport/YouTube

O’Donnell crowned his comeback from injury with a late goal against Tipp in last year’s Munster U21 semi-final and he’s already shown signs of returning to top form this year, with an impressive showing against Limerick in the Munster SHC quarter-final.

4. Patrick Collins (Cork)

Patrick Collins Patrick Collins looks set to become Cork's future senior goalkeeper. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Collins is tipped to succeed Anthony Nash as Cork’s long-term senior goalkeeper.

The Ballinhassig clubman is Nash’s current understudy and was on the bench for the Munster SHC semi-final defeat to Waterford, allowing boss Jimmy Barry-Murphy the option of using another noted netminder, Darren McCarthy, as an outfield option.

Former minor goalkeeper Collins was drafted into the Cork senior set-up for this year’s Waterford Crystal Cup and he played for the Cork U21s in last year’s Munster final defeat to Clare.

5. Austin Gleeson (Waterford)

Austin Gleeson scores from a side line puck Austin Gleeson fired over this brilliant sideline cut against Cork in the Allianz League final. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Gleeson is a colossus for the Waterford seniors and still eligible for the U21 grade, where the Déise will be able to call upon a host of Derek McGrath’s panel members.

Gleeson marked his senior championship debut with that stunning goal against Cork in Thurles last year and featured for Waterford IT in their run to this year’s Fitzgibbon Cup final.

Source: norseirishvikings/YouTube

Dogged by hamstring problems earlier in the year, 2013 All-Ireland minor medallist Gleeson is now back to rude health and impressed in the Munster SHC semi-final victory over Cork, on the back of an impressive League campaign.

6. Diarmuid Byrnes (Limerick)

Diarmuid Byrnes leaves the field after being red carded Diarmuid Byrnes was sent off against Clare last year. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Byrnes will be anxious to make up for last year’s U21 campaign, when he was captain and sent off for a second bookable offence against Clare in the Munster quarter-final.

The powerful Patrickswell player is also a member of this year’s Limerick intermediate panel, and should feature against Tipperary in next Sunday’s provincial semi-final.

In the quarter-final victory over Clare, former minor star Byrnes slammed over three cracking long range scores from placed balls.

7. Ronan Maher (Tipperary)

A dejected Ronan Maher Ronan Maher is in line for a start against Limerick next Sunday. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

After impressing in the Allianz Hurling League, Maher is tipped to start in the same half-back line alongside his brother Pádraic in next Sunday’s Munster SHC semi-final against Limerick.

Maher will turn his attentions to the U21 grade next month, and he boasts rich underage pedigree.

A 2012 Munster and All-Ireland minor medallist at corner back, Maher has flourished further out the field and made his senior championship debut at midfield against Galway last year.

He’s a two-time county SHC medallist with Thurles Sarsfields and also won a Munster club title in 2012.

8. Bobby Duggan (Clare)

Bobby Duggan Bobby Duggan has shot the lights out at underage level. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Duggan has been a prolific scorer in the underage ranks and will now hope to continue that good form with the Banner County’s U21s.

The Clarecastle hitman made waves early in 2015, pilfering 1-5 for NUI Galway in the Walsh Cup clash with Carlow.

Duggan, an All-Ireland U21 medallist last year, has already proven that he’s not overawed by the big stage, having scored 0-12 on his senior intercounty debut for Clare last year as an 18-year-old.

Still to make a major impact at senior level but still has plenty of time to break through.

9. Anthony Spillane (Cork)

Anthony Spillane and Eoin Moore Anthony Spillane featured for the Cork seniors during this year's Allianz League. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Spillane earned a call-up to the Cork senior panel on the back of good form for UCC in the Waterford Crystal Cup earlier this year.

An All-Ireland intermediate medallist with the Rebels last year, Spillane scored a point against Wexford in the final.

The Castlelyons forward wasn’t part of the Cork 26-man panel for the Munster SHC semi-final loss to Waterford but will hope that good U21 form can earn him a recall, after he featured through the Allianz League campaign.

20-year-old Spillane won numerous titles with his club and divisional outfit Imokilly as an emerging player, and was excellent against Waterford in last year’s U21 clash.

10. Colin Dunford (Waterford)

Shane OÕNeill and Stephen McDonnell tackle Colin Dunford Colin Dunford in warrior mode against Cork in the Munster SHC semi-final. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Jet-heeled Dunford has already left his mark on the 2015 season, starring in the Allianz League final victory over Cork and the repeat Munster championship win against the Rebels five weeks later.

Two-time Harty medallist Dunford spent two seasons as a Waterford minor before making the step-up to the U21 ranks.

Source: breakingthrough/YouTube

And as a fresher with IT Carlow, he was joint-captain of the team that won the Division 1 All-Ireland League title against UCC in December 2013.

Dunford bagged two goals against Wexford in last year’s All-Ireland senior qualifier and when he made his debut against Cork in 2014, he was the first player from the Colligan Emmets club to play senior championship hurling for the county since the 1990s.

Who have we left out that you’re looking forward to watching? Let us know in the comments section below…

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