Thursday 26 January 2023 Dublin: 6°C
# Young Guns
6 players to watch in Kilkenny and Wexford's Leinster U21 hurling final
This sextet will have a big say in Wednesday’s Bord Gáis Energy decider at Innovate Wexford Park.

1. Conor Martin (Kilkenny)

In a team of superstars that stormed to Fitzgibbon Cup glory this year, Conor Martin played his part with University of Limerick.

In the quarter-final victory over UCD, Martin scored four points, including three from play, as UL advanced to the semi-finals.

He added a point in the derby victory over Limerick IT and while he was held scoreless in an epic first final encounter against Waterford IT, Martin scored a point in the replay.

A hard-working forward, Emeralds clubman Martin has the ability to find the target and also bring better placed teammates into play.

He notched a point in the dramatic Leinster U21 quarter-final victory over Dublin before hitting 0-5 against Carlow.

breakingthrough / YouTube

2. Conor McDonald (Wexford)

It might not have been the season that Conor McDonald and Wexford had hoped for at senior level but the Slaneysiders have the chance to retain their provincial U21 crown and make it three-in-a-row.

McDonald took the hurling world by storm last year as the Wexford seniors progressed to the All-Ireland quarter finals and in 2013, he made his senior debut as a substitute against Clare in Thurles.

Marked out as one to watch for many years, McDonald was nominated for the Young Hurler of the Year award in 2014.

McDonald was the man who provided the beautiful flick for sub Cathal Dunbar’s sublime goal against Offaly, having netted himself earlier in the game.

McDonald managed just a point against Cork in last Saturday’s senior qualifier, and was well shackled by Kilkenny’s Joey Holden in Leinster, but he’s expected to have a big day against the Noreside U21s.

breakingthrough / YouTube

3. Jason Cleere (Kilkenny)

Bennettsbridge player Cleere anchored the St Kieran’s half-back line for their Croke Cup final victory over Thurles CBS earlier this year.

He shuffled across to centre back after filling the right-half-back slot on the 2014 winning team.

2014 was a year to remember for Cleere, who also went on to claim Leinster and All-Ireland minor hurling medals with Kilkenny.

Cleere is capable of orchestrating matters from inside his own half and is well capable of taking a long-range score.

Cleere also won an AIB All-Ireland junior club hurling medal with Bennettsbridge in February.

Jason Cleere with an eye injury James Crombie / INPHO Jason Cleere receives treatment on an eye injury against Dublin. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

4. Liam Ryan (Wexford)

Ryan’s series of excellent displays in 2014 saw him nominated for an Allstar award.

The Rapparees clubman made his senior championship debut against Antrim last year and went on to enjoy a commanding campaign at corner back.

Ryan’s grandfather hurled for Wexford and the bloodline is strong as the tenacious defender has emerged as one of the county’s stand-out young talents.

While a huge amount of attention focused on Conor McDonald and Jack Guiney’s emergence as senior stars from the U21 ranks, Ryan’s defending didn’t go unnoticed either.

He’s also a cousin of Kilkenny’s 2014 All-Ireland winning captain Lester Ryan.

Liam Ryan Donall Farmer / INPHO Liam Ryan is a key player for Wexford's U21s. Donall Farmer / INPHO / INPHO

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5. Liam Blanchfield (Kilkenny)

Bennettsbridge starlet Blanchfield is another two-time Croke Cup winner with St Kieran’s and was vice-captain of this year’s team.

Blanchfield was involved in the killer goal that floored local rivals Kilkenny CBS in the 2014 final, as his delivery was flicked to the net by Tadhg O’Dwyer.

Despite the fact that they were underdogs, Kilkenny stormed to victory in last year’s All-Ireland minor final and Blanchfield played his part, scoring two points from play against Limerick at Croke Park.

At 6ft 2″ tall, Blanchfield is a proven ball-winner and scorer and he notched 1-1 for Bennettsbridge in February’s AIB All-Ireland junior club hurling final victory over Fullen Gaels.

He scored a point against Dublin and added two more in the semi-final win over Carlow.

Liam Blanchfield 7/9/2014 Cathal Noonan / INPHO Liam Blanchfield in action during last year's All-Ireland minor final. Cathal Noonan / INPHO / INPHO

6. Kevin Foley (Wexford)

Foley scored seven points against Offaly as Wexford booked their place in the final.

The Rapparees man also managed to get on the scoresheet against Cork last weekend in the heavy All-Ireland senior qualifier defeat.

Foley will have learned so much from his first full season at senior level with the Slaneysiders, and is expected to become a leading player in the years to come.

He was also a key figure on the Rapparees team that won the 2011 county minor hurling title against Faythe Harriers.

Foley is a survivor from last year’s Leinster U21 winning side and made his full senior championship debut against Cork at the weekend.

Kevin Foley and Michael Fennelly James Crombie / INPHO Kevin Foley chases Kilkenny's Michael Fennelly in the Leinster senior semi-final. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

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