Unearthing new talent: Dublin and Kerry’s top league finds
Both have given fresh talent its chance and that could prove pivotal come September
Dublin’s Niall Scully made his mark in the O’Byrne Cup competition. He is cool and clever in his use of possession, hardworking and with pace to burn. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho
Kerry’s Jack Savage is the player who has stood out most this season. Photograph: Lorcan Doherty/Inpho
Bragging rights and silverware aside, when the 2017 season is done with, the national football league will be looked back on in terms of the fresh talent uncovered.
Dublin, as All-Ireland champions, and Kerry as arguably their main rivals at the top table, have very few openings in their championship squads. Come September however, the addition of one or two extra players could prove the difference in claiming Sam Maguire.
Brian Fenton’s impact in 2015 being the case and point.
Dublin allowed their development squad to compete in, and ultimately win, the preseason O’Byrne Cup competition in January; and the find of that competition was Niall Scully.
Equally impressive operating in the half back line as in the half forward line, Scully is cool and clever in his use of possession, hardworking and with pace to burn.
The Templeogue Synge Street man, who was in the half forward line for both the All-Ireland-winning minor Dublin team in 2012, and Under-21 team in 2014, picked up the man of the match awards in the O’Byrne Cup semi-final and final.
He followed that up with a third consecutive award in the league opener against Cavan, and has continued to impress in starting every game as Dublin reached Sunday’s league decider.
Another graduate of those successful minor and Under-21 teams is Conor McHugh. The Na Fianna clubman caught the eye as DCU won the Sigerson Cup in 2015, and he scored 1-3 in the league win over Mayo.
That was one of four starts he made in Dublin’s seven games, and along with Cormac Costello and Con O’Callaghan (he’ll get his chance after the Under-21 championship is completed) he is one of the county’s most exciting attacking prospects.
Ciarán Reddin is another to come through the ranks with an Under-21 All-Ireland, only he won his in 2012. The St Maurs player captained the O’Byrne Cup-winning team, kicking three points in the final against Louth.
He has been involved in extended panels and made appearances in recent years, but in the last two league games he has put his hand up like never before.
Four points from play (albeit one of them being very dubious) in two matches from midfield, he may not be the most combative or all-action midfielders, but he is assured in possession, has a fine engine and he offers a scoring threat. He’s certainly earned himself another opportunity.
As for Kerry, they have handed a lot more chances to younger players in the league. No surprise after three minor All-Irelands, and four Munsters in a row.
The Kerins O’Rahilly clubman was brought into the panel ahead of last year’s All-Ireland quarter-final, but given his chance at 13 early on this season, he has excited a lot of purists.
A classy operator at centre forward for the Kerry minor and Under-21 teams, the 21-year-old scored 0-10 in the 2013 Munster minor final win over Tipperary.
In some of his point-taking, and his movement in creating space and evading tackles, he has shown why he is so highly rated in Kerry. To keep his place when the full pack is available though, he will need to show it more often.
Probably the find of the league for the Kingdom though is Jack Barry. He formed a fine midfield partnership with fellow Kerry man Barry O’Sullivan for UCD in the Sigerson Cup, and he has built on that by starting five league games for the Kingdom, and featuring in the other two.
Discipline and focus
Barry is a strong ball carrier, he can kick points at full tilt and he is a nice fielder, but he impressed most in his marking of Dublin’s Fenton in the draw in Tralee last month.
The man from the Na Gaeil club could yet be called upon to repeat the trick once or twice more before the year is out.
A minor in 2012, Barry has stiff competition for places around the middle, but he offers a different option and looks like one who will improve.
Ronan Shanahan mightn’t have commanded the winter headlines of Barry or Savage, but he has been quietly consolidating his place in Kerry’s defence.
He has started six games during the league, at corner back in all but one. The Austin Stacks defender can also operate in the half back line.
Shanahan had never played for Kerry at any grade but he was given his chance in the McGrath Cup earlier in the season, and has quietly gone about his task with some gritty displays.
A tidy solid defender, he’s being rewarded for club form and looks to be very much in Éamonn Fitzmaurice’s plans.