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Ones To Watch - Five Players Coming Into The Championship Under The Radar

Ones To Watch - Five Players Coming Into The Championship Under The Radar
Aonghus Ó Maicín
By Aonghus Ó Maicín
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The aperitifs of winter and spring have been served - now, on to the summer feast. So the football championship has arrived, along with the various story lines and subplots it brings along with it. Predicting those can be a fool's errand, not that it will stop us.

The narrative of every championship sees a number of unexpected faces light up the summer  - some of them new; some of them not so new. The erstwhile bit-part players become major forces to be reckoned with; some younger players, expected to need time, defy all the odds.

While Dublin remain the team to beat for now, it's difficult to pick any player within Jim Gavin's ranks capable of surprising the masses. This is the Dublin way - the sheer relentlessness of the team effort can sometimes see individual brilliance at a premium. They simply don't need that kind of individuality when, as a team, they can captivate as they do.

Other teams, however, can thrive on the performances of specific individuals.

And with that, which players are beginning to shape like they could take the majority of us by surprise?


Tadhg Morley

Within a matter of weeks, Peter Keane's young Kerry outfit went from a serious threat to Dublin's historic bid to mere kids that are a few years short of full development. Thus is the fickle way of GAA commentary.


Drill down into the minutiae and it's obvious the men from the Kingdom aren't far away. The attacking talent, there's no denying, is alarmingly impressive, and as the league wore on it became clear that there were a few chinks in the armour at the back. Enough to write them off completely, for some. Others - perhaps relying on decades of observing Kerry dominance - knew better.

A season-ending injury to the experienced Peter Crowley, however, leaves a gaping void behind midfield, in terms of strength and experience. No amount of athleticism and talent can substitute for experience, so Keane has been forced to forage through his reserves in search of a stopgap capable fill a Crowley-sized hole. Step forward, Tadhg Morley.

If the Kingdom are to make a serious attempt at claiming the All-Ireland, it will require the Templenoe man at his best. Paul Murphy cannot be expected to lead alone, with such a dearth of experience around him. Morley may be young, but he's been around. On big days. 2019 is the year he proves whether or not he can become the generational defender for the county with such lofty ambitions.



Kieran Molloy

Dividing loyalties between club and county - and, of course, third-level - football should have proved complicated for Kieran Molloy. More than likely, it did, not that it was evident from his displays on the pitch. So when he is left to concentrate on his intercounty commitments without the distractions of other competitions, the Corofin man is likely to raise the bar once again.

In the modern game, Molloy's style of constant running and relentless work-rate would earn him a spot in any side in the country. And given Galway's recent propensity for prioritizing defensive duties, the wing back's ability to break at pace could prove invaluable for Kevin Walsh. Especially if the Tribesmen make it to the wide open expanses of Croke Park later on in the summer.


Sides like Galway need players like Molloy who can turn a game on its head, all within a matter of seconds, and boast an ability to keep the engine running for as long as required, and more. A successful year for Galway will need the Corofin man at his best. And considering we probably have yet to see Molloy at his best, in the dead heat of a summer championship, there's plenty to whet the appetites out West.


Kevin McLoughlin

The Knockmore man has long been considered a vital component of Mayo's set-up, and yet has remained somewhat of an unsung hero. This year, it appears, James Horan is ready to hand the forward a free role closer to goal, where his role would become more obvious to the naked eye of the spectator.


His ability to scythe through a defence may not have been pronounced in the past, as he was often deployed in the sweeper role if not as the man tasked with sweeping up breaking ball. But the emergence of numerous options along the half-forward line has opened up the possibility for McLoughlin to use his own intellect and roam wherever he wants. That's a dangerous proposition for any defender.

Obviously, McLoughlin's versatility adds another troubling dimension to the task the Mayo player's marker is assigned. In fact, the Knockmore man has played in the full-back line, the half-back line, in midfield, the half-forward line and the full-forward line. Provided he holds down a position he can make hay in, as opposed to those renowned for ball-winning duties, there could be no other player that catches the eye more throughout the summer.


Jamie Brennan

Hidden from the public glare in Division Two during the spring, the Donegal youngster comes into the Ulster championship as nothing but a speck on the radar. But don't underestimate his scoring instinct. In the latter stages of the league, in particular, Brennan shone out, illustrating a keen eye for that green flag beneath the umpire.

For a side that sees Michael Murphy attract most of the opposition's attention, if not Paddy McBrearty, Brennan is a welcome source of ammunition up front, especially when Murphy is so often drawn out to the middle of the field. The Bundoran man's form during the latter parts of the league, in particular, was significant, the forward registering 1-2 in the final against Meath to finish as his side's top scorer on the day.

It was a similar case in previous crucial encounters against Kildare and Cork. But the big test, as always, will come in the Ulster championship. A continuation of his form could see him become one of the most unexpected heroes of the summer, especially if Declan Bonner's men go well.



Niall Morgan

The mercurial nature of the Tyrone goalkeeper means he is always going to provide headaches for the opposition. And it's simply impossible to prepare for.

Doing due analysis done on Morgan can be futile, simply because you don't know whether the man will saunter up the pitch to pop over a point from play or hoof a 60-yard pass with the utmost precision.

Couple that with one of the most astute tacticians the game has ever witnessed on the line and you've got an fascinating recipe. Tantalising, even Mickey Harte is no fool, and while Tyrone have been observed to be developing their style over the last few months, the Tyrone manager will have kept much of his plans under wraps. For now.

And with a player like Morgan in his ranks, equally at ease out the field as on the goal-line, the possibilities are endless. No matter what, Morgan will play a pivotal role. What that role is is simply impossible to decipher this early on.

SEE ALSO: Gaelic Football Can Learn A Lot From Crucial Liverpool Ball Boy Reaction



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