GAA nerd Mike Kelly gives his tips for GAA GPA All-Star Young Footballer Of The Year.
With the semi-finals of the All-Ireland football championship almost upon us I have decided to take a look at the current front runners in the race to be crowned the Young Player of the year at the end of this year's championship.
As we all know, the All-Stars and individual awards are not doled out based on a particular player's performances over the course of the season. It is pretty much from the semi-finals onwards that the awards are finalised. The odd player might get into the All-Star team from a quarter final side but go back further than that and nobody will get more than the token nomination, regardless of how well the have performed.
There are only really two players in the running for the award as Kerry have had no stand out young players this season while Tyrone's Darren McCurry, while enjoying a fine debut season for the red hand county, has not done enough to be considered a potential winner. This leaves us with a straight two horse race for the award between a free scoring corner forward and an attacking, pacey wing back.
Cillian O'Connor - Mayo (9/4)
The first player to retain the young player award, having took home the prize in both his seasons on the Mayo senior panel, O'Connor is looking to make it a hat trick of titles.
He is certainly going about things the right way with 6-13 to his name as well as assisting in a huge number of Mayo's scores this summer. Two hat tricks against London and Donegal have gone a long way to quietening the talk that Mayo do not possess a marquee forward while his performance at centre forward against Galway was a joy to behold for anybody lucky enough to be in Pearse stadium that day.
O'Connor missed the Connaught semi final due to a dislocated shoulder but returned with a bang and has become probably the most important forward in Mayo's arsenal. His free taking ability, he has scored 11 from 11 in the championship, is among the best in the business and he is still only in his 21st year.
So long as Mayo and O'Connor continue their amazing performances the young player award could be heading for Ballintubber once again, and it would be no surprise to see the senior award alongside it on the mantelpiece.
Jack McCaffrey - Dublin (7/4)
McCaffrey has been the find of the season so far, particularly in an attacking sense. His pace and skill have set him apart from virtually every other young player this season and he has grown into the position of left half back with more assuredness and confidence with every passing game.
However, one aspect of McCaffrey's game is still questionable and that is his defence. So far this season Dublin have not been on the back foot for more than about five minutes in any given game but in those short periods their defence, not just McCaffrey, have been found wanting when it comes to answering any questions posed. Coming up against better players, like Paul Galvin or Kevin McLoughlin, than he has so far could put McCaffrey under serious pressure. There is no doubting his attacking ability but his defensive ability is what could cost him the young player award.
A bad thumb injury, McCaffrey dislocated his left thumb at training on Tuesday evening, has left the flying wing back a doubt for Dublin's semi final but even if he misses that game, and taking into account his defensive frailties, he must be considered one of the front runners for the award in 2013. Time will tell if the injury affects his performances and how he does against a top class wing forward will be the making or breaking of McCaffrey in 2013. Speed alone will not win you individual awards, but performances will and the youngster has the chance to put in those performances yet.
You can follow Mike at @kellymike87.
Don't miss out on your chance to get €30 in free bets from Ladbrokes in association with Balls.ie - Follow this link and use code "Balls30".