AS WE REFLECT on the 2017 Gaelic football season, it’s a good time to recognise some of the youngsters who burst onto the scene this year.
Con O’Callaghan was the highest profile arrival, but there were plenty of others too. We’ve got nine counties and all four provinces reprented on this list
The criteria for this list: the players must be under the age of 23, they must have made an appearance in the All-Ireland SFC and they had to be inexperienced at senior level at the start of the year.
1. Con O’Callaghan (Dublin)
O’Callaghan could have easily made the hurling version of this list given his exploits with Cuala over the past 12 months. But it was on the football field with Dublin where he really made his name.
After briefly debuting in 2016, O’Callaghan was pitched into Dublin’s starting team for the championship despite missing the entire league and he had an extraordinary impact.
O’Callaghan’s strength, speed and eye for goal saw him win Leinster and All-Ireland honours, as well as an All-Star and Young Footballer of the Year.
2. David Mulgrew (Tyrone)
Tyrone’s baby-faced assasin was the youngest player to start in this year’s Ulster final, a full three years younger than any other player on the field.
He featured as an impact substitute in Tyrone’s first four championship games before he bagged 1-2 against Armagh in the All-Ireland quarter-final to underline his class.
The Ardboe youngster will be hoping to make an even greater impact for the Red Hand next year.
3. Michael Daly (Galway)
Michael Daly, son of one of Galway’s most celebrated players Val Daly, has a long way to go before he emulates his father. Val won five Connacht titles and two All-Stars, while he managed the Galway U21s to the All-Ireland this year.
Michael was a key member of the Tribe U21s, while he also scored two points in the Division 2 league final win over Kildare with the seniors in Croke Park last April.
Daly junior’s progression has been quick since making his debut for Kevin Walsh’s side in February and he lined out at centre-forward against Kerry in the All-Ireland quarter-final.
4. Sean Powter (Cork)
Powter made his debut for Cork off the bench during the 2016 championship, but really announced his arrival earlier this year.
His goal against Mayo in Cork’s qualifier defeat was one of the best individual goals of the summer and his fine performances earned him a call-up to Joe Kernan’s Irish International Rules squad for the trip to Australia in November.
Powter’s pace and low centre of gravity makes him one of the most exciting prospects in the game.
5. Tom O’Sullivan (Kerry)
The latest youngster to arrive off the productuion line in the Kingdom with an All-Ireland minor medal in his back pocket.
O’Sullivan played at corner-back in Kerry’s win over Donegal in the 2014 final and has since progressed to senior ranks under Eamonn Fitzmaurice.
He won a Munster U21 medal this year with Kerry and then made his senior debut at wing-back the All-Ireland semi-final replay defeat to Mayo.
The pacey Dingle defender will expect to see increased game-time during the upcoming league campaign.
6. Conor Loftus (Mayo)
An All-Ireland U21 winner in 2016 and minor champion in 2013, Loftus had to be patient with limited minutes for the seniors this year.
He saved their bacon during the qualifier run against Derry with a stunning late goal which forced extra-time. He scored two points against Cork and Kerry further down the line and came off the bench in the final loss to the Dubs.
The DCU student is the grand-nephew of former GAA president Mick Loftus, who was a member of Mayo’s last All-Ireland winning side in 1951.
7. Brian Stack (Roscommon)
The St Brigid’s starlet only made his senior debut this year but proceeded to light up the championship with a virtuoso goal in the Connacht final win over Galway.
Stack is the younger brother of fellow squad member Ronan, and has a bright future for on the Rossies’ half-forward line.
Roscommon boss Kevin McStay showed faith in the 2015 minor by intergrating him in his plans this year and with a year of inter-county football under his belt he should go from strength to strenth in 2018.
8. Jason McGee (Donegal)
A Donegal minor in 2016, the retirements of Rory Kavanagh and Neil Gallagher in the senior camp paved the way for McGee’s arrival on the scene.
A fine athlete with a roaring engine, McGee looked at home in the Donegal midfield during a difficult debut campaign.
His progess didn’t go unnoticed in Australia, with AFL club Brisbane Lions inviting him over for a trial in August.
9. Eoghan ‘Ban’ Gallagher (Donegal)
Gallagher was a member of the Donegal side that lost the All-Ireland minor final to Kerry in 2014, and made the step up to the senior grade under Rory Gallagher this year.
He was a permanant feature at wing-back in 2017, while he also peaked the interest of the Lions and joined McGee on trial with the AFL side in the summer.
Donegal supporters will be praying nothing comes of it, as he has a bright future in the county colours.
10. Conor McCarthy (Monaghan)
McCarthy made his debut off the bench during the 2016 championship, but really annouced his arrival this year.
While Jack McCarron took the limelight early on in 2017, his performances waned while McCarthy got better as the season went on. He arrived off the bench to score a brace against Carlow, before he bagged 0-4 as a 46th minute substitute in Monaghan’s qualifier win over Down.
Then McCarthy was thrown into the lion’s den as a half-time substitute against Dublin, chipping over three points in an impressive display. The trick now is to nail down a starting role alongside Conor McManus in 2018.
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