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9 young footballers to watch in the 2022 GAA season

We take a look at the youngsters that might shine at senior level this year.
Jan 6th 2022, 12:05 PM 56,910 13

YESTERDAY WE BROUGHT you nine young hurlers who could make their mark in 2022, now it’s time to turn our attentions to the big ball code. 

Included are stars of recent U20 campaigns, a returning AFL talent and several youngsters who’ve impressed on the club scene. 

Follow these links to see the 20212020 and 2019 editions. 

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1. Stefan Okunbor (Na Gaeil — Kerry)

brian-mcloughlin-blocked-by-stefan-okunbor Stefan Okunbor made his Kerry senior debut last night. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

After three seasons in the AFL with Geelong, Okunbor’s return to Ireland was music to Jack O’Connor’s ears. The full-back position has been a troublesome one for the Kingdom in recent years and the Na Gaeil clubman could well be a long-term solution. A phenomenal athlete, he’s also an option at centre-back and midfield. 

He impressed in the Kerry county championship for St Brendan’s Board and made his debut for the Kingdom in last night’s McGrath Cup win over Limerick. Okunbor holds an All-Ireland minor medal, Munster U20 title and was named provincial U20 player of the year in 2018.

Austin Stacks half-forward Joe O’Connor and full-back Dylan Casey are other candidates that could make the breakthrough for Kerry this year. 

2. Shealin Johnston (Kilcoo — Down)

shealin-johnston Derrygonnelly Harps are up next for Shealin Johnston's Kilcoo. Source: Cathal McCosker/INPHO

The youngest of the Johnston brothers, Shealin made his senior county debut as a teenager in 2020 Ulster championship but chose to focus on his U20 commitments last season. He captained Down to the Ulster U20 crown and was subsequently named as one of the top 20 players of the championship at the grade.

Johnston has been a scoring threat half forward line for Kilcoo on their journey to the Ulster club final. It’s unclear as of yet if he’ll commit to the Down fold, but he played under new boss James McCartan when the legendary figure managed the county minors in 2018. 

3. Lee Gannon (Whitehall Colmcilles — Dublin)

lee-gannon Dessie Farrell is expected to blood Lee Gannon in 2022. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Gannon is the latest in a long line of talented dual players to emerge in the capital. He led the Dublin U20 hurlers to the delayed 2020 Leinster title last June, winning man-of-the-match for his performance against Galway, and was previously part of Mattie Kenny’s senior hurling squad. 

Ultimately, his future most likely lies with Dessie Farrell’s footballers. The DCU student was on the losing side against the Tribesmen in the 2020 All-Ireland U20 football final, scoring a point to compliment the three he struck against Tyrone in the semi-final. Powerfully built and a talented ball player, Gannon could well be a fixture on the Dublin half-back line for years to come. 

4. Brian Hayes (St Finbarr’s — Cork)

mark-white-runs-past-brian-hayes Brian Hayes enjoyed a stunning 2021. Source: Tom Maher/INPHO

Anther gifted dual player with a big decision to make is Brian Hayes. He won Munster titles in both codes and an All-Ireland hurling medal at U20 level with Cork in 2021. Then Hayes helped St Finbarr’s to the Cork SFC crown, with a Munster club final against Austin Stacks on the horizon. 

The UCC Arts student, the son of former Barr’s and Cork great Paddy, wasn’t named on Kieran Kingston’s senior hurling panel for 2022, leading to optimism he’ll join up with Keith Ricken’s football squad. He was Ricken’s U20 captain and they worked together for three seasons at the grade.

5. Cormac Egan (Tullamore — Offaly)

cormac-egan Cormac Egan is a recent addition to the Offaly senior panel. Source: Lorraine O’Sullivan/INPHO

One of the stars of Offaly’s thrilling All-Ireland U20 victory, Egan lit up the championship with his array of skill, pace and power. Earlier in the summer the dual star was part of the Offaly minor sides that were defeated in the 2020 Leinster minor football and hurling finals.

After enduring a heavy load of games, he missed Tullamore’s run to the Offaly SFC title with a serious hamstring injury. The UCD student returned to training with John Maughan’s county side last week and may see action in the O’Bryne Cup. 

John Furlong, Jack Bryant, Cathal O’Donoghue, Cathal Flynn and Lee Pearson are other members of the exciting U20 side that could make their mark this season. 

6. Cormac Munroe (Carrickmore — Tyrone)

cormac-munroe Cormac Munroe will be trying to force his way into the star-studded Tyrone defence. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

In his first year on the Tyrone panel, Munroe featured in all four of their 2021 National League games. The tight-marking corner-back will be bidding to make his championship bow this year. 

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The talented sportsman captained the Red Hand to All-Ireland minor glory in 2017, helped them lift the Ulster U20 title in 2020 and is also a former World Handball champion. Munroe won the U20 Ulster player of the year award and was also named as one of the best 20 players in the 2020 All-Ireland championship at the grade. 

7. Conor McStay (Ballina Stephenites — Mayo)

Screenshot 2022-01-05 at 19.59.54 McStay has been in fine form for Ballina Stephenites.

McStay’s father Paul and uncle Kevin both enjoyed long careers with Ballina and Mayo, so the young forward’s call-up to Mayo trials recently came as little surprise. The playmaker earned a reputation in his own right after putting in two strong club campaigns with the Stephenites. Comfortable in possession, creative and an accurate shooter, McStay has a bright future ahead of him. 

8. Paddy McDermott (Naas — Kildare)

paddy-mcdermott-and-aidan-cash Paddy McDermott will come onto the radar of Glenn Ryan when his club campaign concludes. Source: Lorraine O’Sullivan/INPHO

The pacey attacking wing-back was part of the Naas CBS side that won Leinster schools honours and reached the Hogan Cup final in 2019. McDermott starred for Kildare minors and U20s, before Naas ended a 31-year wait without a county senior title last November. McDermott’s side play Kilmacud Crokes in Saturday’s Leinster club final and after that looks nailed on to receive a call-up to Glenn Ryan’s senior panel. 

9. Aaron Doherty (Naomh Columba — Donegal)

Screenshot 2022-01-05 at 20.01.03 Aaron Doherty could add pace and scores to the Donegal attack.

The diminutive forward caught the eye for Donegal U20s with several high-scoring displays as they reached the Ulster final in 2020. The DIT student was honoured as one of the top 20 performers from the All-Ireland U20 championship two years ago.

Viewed locally as a rising star in the game, Doherty previously played soccer with Finn Harps at U17 and U19 level before focusing on GAA. During the summer he fired 2-11 for his club Naomh Columba in an intermediate club championship game, which they lost, and looks destined to make his mark at senior level sooner rather than later. 

Originally published at 06.05

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Kevin O'Brien

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