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8 players to watch in tonight's Munster and Leinster U21 hurling finals

These youngsters could have a big say in tonight’s provincial deciders.

PROVINCIAL U21 HURLING honours are up for grabs in both Munster and Leinster tonight as four teams go in search of glory.

Galway and Wexford clash in Portlaoise in the Leinster decider, while TG4 will televise the Munster showdown between Cork and Tipperary at Pairc Ui Chaoimh. Both games throw-in at 7.30pm.

We’ve picked out eight players to keep an eye on during tonight’s games. 

pjimage (40) Jake Morris, Darragh Fitzgibbon, Brian Concannon and Rory O'Connor

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1. Darragh Fitzgibbon (Cork)

With two Munster senior hurling titles already under his belt, Darragh Fitzgibbon is already proven on the big stage. He gave a huge performance as Cork overcame an eight-point deficit to see off Clare last Sunday and is looking to add to his medal collection tonight.

The Charleville dynamo is looking to make amends for last year after he sat out Cork’s  Munster U21 final defeat to Limerick after picking up a red card in the semi-final. “I feel like I let the lads down,” Fitzgibbon told The42 earlier this year of his suspension.

Competing in his first ever provincial final with a Cork underage team, Fitzgibbon will be a key cog in the Rebel engine room.

Brian McGrath and Seamus Flanagan Brian McGrath takes on Seamus Flanagan Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

2. Brian McGrath (Tipperary)

Younger brother of senior stars Noel and John, Brian McGrath is forging a reputation in his own right.

The 2016 minor All-Ireland winning captain lines out at full-back with the U21s and picked up the man-of-the-match award in the 1-22 to 1-13 semi-final win over Limerick after a powerful display.

McGrath will get a serious test of his credentials with a likely match-up against Shane Kingston tonight. Tipperary senior boss Michael Ryan will no doubt be looking on with interest as he looks to shore up his full-back line in 2019.

3. Rory O’Connor (Wexford)

Rory O’Connor is the jewel in the Wexford crown and is seen as one of the finest talents to emerge from the county in years. Like Reck, he’ll have just 72 hours to prepare for the senior clash against Westmeath.

He started in the full-forward line but spent most of his time roaming as a third midfielder in the semi-final against Dublin.

The Sky Blues man marked O’Connor to good effect and although he was heavily involved in his cousin Joe’s second-half goal, the younger O’Connor will need to make a bigger impact if Wexford are to beat Galway.

Evan Niland Evan Niland takes a free for Galway Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

4. Evan Niland (Galway)

Evan Niland lit up Galway’s 3-13 to 1-17 semi-final victory over Kilkenny with a tally of 1-6 in Tullamore, including 1-3 from play.

Niland forms an extremely dangerous full-forward line alongside 2017 All-Ireland minor winner Jack Canning and senior panellist Brian Concannon.

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Clarinbridge ace Niland scored nine points as the Tribesmen lifted the minor All-Ireland title in 2015, while he chipped in with six points a year later as they fell to Tipperary in the September decider.

John Paul Lucey with Mark Coleman Mark Coleman contests a high ball with John Paul Lucey Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

5. Mark Coleman (Cork)

Like Fitzgibbon, Mark Coleman burst onto the scene last summer as Cork came from nowhere to claim a Munster senior crown and he hasn’t looked back since.

A wing-back with John Meyler’s seniors, Coleman lines out at centre-back for the U21s at performs key duties at the heart of their defence.

The Blarney youngster is a skilfull stickman with searing pace and will have an intriguing battle with Premier centre-forward Paudie Feehan.

6. Jake Morris (Tipperary)

Another Premier youngster with senior experience, Jake Morris broke onto the Tipperary senior side during the league and bagged a key point in the championship draw against Cork in May.

Morris won an All-Ireland minor medal alongside McGrath two years ago and appeared off the bench ahead of other high profile forwards for Tipperary during the Munster SHC round-robin.

One of three players in the Tipp side with senior experience alongside Paudie Feehan and Ger Browne, Morris is named to start at full-forward but may spend most of his time on the wing.

Damien Reck Damien Reck surveys his options against Kilkenny Source: James Crombie/INPHO

7. Damien Reck (Wexford)

A favourite of Davy Fitzgerald’s in the senior set-up, Damien Reck is facing a hectic week as he’s likely to start the All-Ireland SHC preliminary quarter-final against Westmeath three days after this U21 final.

He was excellent at midfield in the semi-final win over Dublin at this grade, using his low centre of gravity and pace to good effect around the middle third.

Reck is a fine ball-striker and will be looking to deliver quality ball into Wexford’s two-man full-forward line.

8. Brian Concannon (Galway)

Concannon did little harm to his reputation when he was pitched in by Micheal Donoghue for his first championship start against Offaly in Galway’s Leinster SHC opener.

He helped himself to 2-1 from corner-forward to give Donoghue another option in an already formidable forward line.

The Killimordaly man featured as a 65th minute substitute in last Sunday’s Leinster final draw against Kilkenny and is one of “six or seven” U21s currently involved in the senior set-up.

He only bagged a point in the U21 semi-final win over the Cats but has the big game temperament to put up a big score tonight.

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About the author:

Kevin O'Brien

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