Championship 2017: Who are the young guns to watch?
Mark Bradley, Niall Kelly, Michael Daly, Jack Barry and Con O’Callaghan set for big years
Mark Bradley enjoyed All-Ireland under-21 success with Tyrone in 2015. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
Dublin’s Con O’Callaghan is possibly a better hurler than footballer. Photograph: Philip Magowan/Inpho
Niall Kelly has quickly established himself as one of their most reliable and go-to forwards with Kildare. Photo: Inpho
Kerry’s Jack Barry has pace to burn. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
Michael Daly of Galway has shown leadership qualities. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
There have been plenty of hints already, his All-Ireland under-21 success in 2015 for starters, followed by further flashes of potential in his debut senior championship, and now it seems Bradley is poised to step it up again.
The Killyclogher player finished last year’s Tyrone championship as top scorer – words like dynamic, intelligent and nippy frequently following him into print – and then came more hints of his potential during the league.
In the one-point defeat to Mayo that ended Tyrone’s title hopes, Bradley still produced one of the moves of the game when selling the most subtle of dummies to defender Colm Boyle. More of that this summer please.
Few county panels have as young an age profile right now as Kildare, although at age 23, Niall Kelly has quickly established himself as one of their most reliable and go-to forwards. His scoring rate during the league – including 2-2 against Meath in their opening match – was central to Kildare’s promotion back to Division One, and he rounded it off with five points, all from play, in the Division Two final defeat to Galway.
The Athy man is blessed with both pace and strength, his low centre of gravity making him difficult to mark, but his work rate is what stands out too, throughout the middle third of the field. Kelly’s skill on the ball also has the ability to inspire the players around him, and if Kildare are to leave any mark on the Leinster championship this summer, watch out for his deft hand in it.
Being the son of a famous footballer – in his case former Galway two-time All Star Val Daly – always brings extra expectations, and yet so far anyway Michael Daly has been carving out a name for himself purely on his own merits. Captaining the Galway under-21 team also underlined his leading qualities, and he then played a key role in their surprise semi-final win over Kerry, before coming up a little short against Dublin in the last ever All-Ireland final in that grade.
Before that, the Mountbellew- Moylough player also proved his worth to senior manager Kevin Walsh, coming off the bench to score two beautiful points in the Division Two final win over Kildare in early April. If Galway are to set alight the Connacht championship again, then expect Daly to help send some sparks flying.
After relegating Dublin’s Brian Fenton to a shadow role at midfield not once but twice already this year, Barry has already proved himself more than worthy as one to watch, and yet there is a sense he’s only just getting going.
There’s also the sense Barry has come out of nowhere this season, but that’s not strictly true: from the small Na Gaeil club in Tralee, and older brother of outstanding emerging minor Andrew, he won a Sigerson Cup medal with UCD in 2016, and has been quietly serving his time in the under-21 ranks.
His performances against Dublin, firstly in the drawn game then in their league final win, drew considerable praise. Kerry had been lacking some pace around midfield and Barry has that to burn, Tomás Ó Sé suggesting he also brought a bit of “divilment” – whatever that exactly means.
It’s still scary to think he’s possibly a better hurler than footballer, and God knows the difference he might have made for the Dublin hurlers this summer, but there’s no denying the excitement surrounding O’Callaghan’s full graduation to the senior footballers this summer.
He did make a few fleeting appearances in the Leinster championship last season, but since then has been concentrating largely on hurling, helping Cuala become the first Dublin club to win an All-Ireland hurling title, and after that the under-21 footballers, co-captaining the county to the last ever title in the grade. Now we get to see exactly why O’Callaghan chose football over hurling, right?