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9 young Gaelic footballers to watch in the 2021 GAA season

You might be hearing a lot about these players in the coming year.

WE LOOKED AT the young hurlers who could make their mark in 2021 yesterday, now it’s time to turn our attention to promising Gaelic footballers around the country.

Some of these youngsters have already made their bows at senior level, others are returning from the AFL while a few are hoping to make the step-up from the U20 grade.

All nine are exceptionally talented and will be hoping to make their mark this season.


1. Jack Glynn (Claregalway — Galway)

jack-glynn-lifts-the-trophy-as-galway-are-eirgrid-gaa-all-ireland-under-20-champions Galway's Jack Glynn lifts the All-Ireland U20 trophy. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

He led by example in the All-Ireland U20 final and gave a memorable speech on the steps of the Hogan Stand after lifting the trophy.

The Galway captain held Dublin danger man Ciaran Archer to a single point from play in the biggest game of his career to date. The UL student represented the Tribesmen for three years at U20 level and looks ready to make the step-up to Padraic Joyce’s senior plans in 2021.

Tight marking corner-backs are hard to come by and Glynn is one of a number of U20s who could see game-time later this year. Young attackers Matthew Tierney and Tomo Culhane also look primed to have an impact.

2. Ross McQuillan (Cullyhanna — Armagh)

shea-downey-and-ross-mcquillan Ross McQuillan in action for Armagh U20s in 2018. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Son of former Armagh stalwart Martin, Ross McQuillan’s return home from the AFL after just one season has been greeted with excitement by Orchard supporters.

He followed in Conor McKenna’s footsteps by leaving Melbourne outfit Essendon in favour of pursuing a GAA career with Armagh and his club Cullyhanna. 

The 21-year-old starred for Armagh at minor and U20 level in the past. He was still a teenager when he featured for Kieran McGeeney’s seniors in 2018, with his last appearance arriving in the epic qualifier clash with Roscommon that summer. 

He failed to play in a first team game for the Bombers and Covid-19 caused the second tier Victorian Football League to be scrapped, which severely limited his game-time. 

Lightning fast and tall, McQuillan represented Northern Ireland in basketball and was named as a forward on the 2018 EirGrid U20 Team of the Year.

3. Paul Donaghy (Dungannon Thomas Clarkes — Tyrone)

paul-donaghy-scores-a-point Dungannon’s Paul Donaghy scores a point during the Tyrone SFC. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Many felt Donaghy’s high scoring performances during Dungannon’s route to the Tyrone SFC title were deserving of a call-up to Mickey Harte’s squad in 2020.

New joint managers Feargal Logan and Brian Dooher have added the inside forward who scored 0-33 in four club championship games to their panel for the upcoming season. Tall, skillful and accurate off both feet, Donaghy is a player who could really thrive at the top level.

Tyrone’s attack has a mouthwatering look to it as Mark Bradley and Lee Brennan return to the fold, in addition to McKenna, Cathal McShane, Darren McCurry and another young prospect, Darragh Canavan.

Not many counties in the country can compete with that sort of attacking riches. 

4. Cathail O’Mahony (Mitchelstown — Cork)

cathail-omahony Cork's Cathail O'Mahony during the Munster U20 final against Kerry. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

O’Mahony was one of six members of Cork’s 2019 All-Ireland U20 winning side to be blooded by Ronan McCarthy during last year’s championship campaign. 

Along with Maurice Shanley, Paul Ring, Sean Meehan, Colm O’Callaghan and Damien Gore, O’Mahony is a player of tremendous promise. His performances for the U20s saw him named one of the top 20 players at the grade in 2019

He was summoned from the bench for his championship debut at half-time in the Munster senior final to replace the injured Luke Connolly.

O’Mahony’s pace, ball control, finishing and free-taking abilities makes him one to watch for the coming year.

5. Mark Moran (Westport — Mayo)

mark-moran-and-lee-keegan-celebrate Mark Moran and Lee Keegan after the Connacht final. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

After a man-of-the-match performance on his league debut against Galway, Moran struggled to make an impact for the remainder of the season. Moran dictated matters from centre-forward against their rivals in a thrilling introduction to senior inter-county football. 

His skill levels and balance made him look like like the long-term solution for Mayo at centre-forward before a quad injury several hampered his involvement for the championship.

After featuring for 10 minutes off the bench against Galway in the Connacht final, he failed to make an appearance in the All-Ireland semi-final or final. Ryan O’Donoghue took full advantage and made the number 11 jersey his own. 

If Moran can stay fit, this could be the year he establishes himself on the Mayo team. 

6. Darragh Kirwan (Naas — Kildare)

darragh-kirwan Kildare forward Kirwan. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

U20 All-Ireland winner Jimmy Hyland was tipped to become the ace in the pack of the Lilywhites attack, but lest heralded was youngster Darragh Kirwan who became their main man up front last season.

A four-point haul from play in his league debut was a sign of things to come. By the time the Leinster championship rolled around, he was in flying form and bagged 0-6 against Offaly in the quarter-final, followed by a brace in the semi-final against Meath.

Storng and powerful, Kirwan is an good ball winner and excellent shooter off either foot.

The DCU student led Naas CBS to the first Leinster ‘A’ schools title in their history in 2018. Highly rated by Kildare boss Jack O’Connor, there’s plenty more to come from the Naas clubman in 2021. 

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7. Jordan Morris (Nobber — Meath)

john-small-and-brian-fenton-with-jordan-morris Morris competes for a ball with Brian Fenton and John Small. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

He only turns 21 this year but already Morris has made a name for himself on the inter-county scene. In his first five league and championship appearances at the end of 2020, the Nobber youngster scored a remarkable 4-18 for Andy McEntee’s side.

His progression at senior level has been quick though the talent was always there. A talented soccer and basketball player in his youth, Morris helped Nobber land the Meath IFC honours in 2019 after battling back from a knee injury.

The 2017 Meath Young Footballer of the Year is extremely pacey with a dangerous left foot and an eye for goal. He became one of the shining lights in Meath’s run to the provincial final and looks set to go from strength-to-strength this year.

Matthew Costello, the teenage wing-back who also made his debut last year, is another promising talent to emerge for the Royals.

8. Conor Glass (Watty Graham’s GAC Glen — Derry)

conor-glass-and-armaghs-aidan-forker-niall-grimley-and-rory-grugan Glass during his championship debut against Armagh. Source: Lorcan Doherty/INPHO

Another returning AFL man but unlike McQuillan, Glass spent five years Down Under before making the decision to come home last September.

He was immediately thrown into the fray by Rory Gallagher. Glass made his Derry debut just days after his first training session with the squad. The 22-year-old played the full 70 minutes at midfield of their Ulster exit to Armagh and looks set to push on in 2021 with a pre-season behind him and more time to re-adjust to the round ball.

“It will take time to get used to the football again,” Glass admitted last October.

Standing at 6’2, he’s a powerhouse athlete that will give the Oak Leafers a major lift in the middle third.

The man who captained Derry to the 2015 Ulster title made his AFL debut at just 19 for Hawthorn and went on to make 21 appearances for the Melbourne club.

9. Ciaran Archer (St Maur’s — Dublin)

ciaran-archer Archer takes a free against Tyrone in the All-Ireland U20 semi-final. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Like the Limerick hurlers, it’s unlikely any youngster will come out of nowhere to break onto the Dublin side in 2021. The player with a decent chance of logging game-time is Ciaran Archer, who has been the star forward for Dublin’s U20s in the past two seasons.

The 2019 U20 Footballer of the Year has posted 10-53 in the last couple of seasons at the grade for Dublin.

Archer had soccer trials at English side Yeovil Town but decided against pursuing a career across the water.

Luke Swan, Mark Lavin and Lorcan O’Dell are other U20s in the capital with potential senior careers ahead of them. 

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Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

About the author:

Kevin O'Brien

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