Will we have championship hurling this summer? Or even this year? That’s the big question on every GAA fan’s mind right now, but I’m optimistic, and hopefully, when we do we’ll be making up for lost time.
With so many games due to be played, I’ve picked my players to watch when everything gets back on track. Here are five players in Leinster who might not automatically spring to mind but could make their mark come championship time.
JOHN DONNELLY (KILKENNY)
Billy Ryan is a player who came close to getting the nod and I’ve no doubt that he’ll have a big impact on the championship. However, I think John Donnelly could be a massive player for Kilkenny when things restart. He’s already shown over the last couple of years that he has huge potential and he’s in that age bracket (22) where he’s starting to get stronger. He’s a very skilful player, he’s good in the air and if Kilkenny are to win Leinster this year, I think he’s the player to have a major impact. He’s a player I really like and I think he could be on everybody’s lips over the next few years. He’s got the potential to turn into a real star.
JAMES MADDEN (DUBLIN)
I considered Ronan Hayes but James Madden is the player I really like the look of. He was so good in the National Hurling League that it gave Mattie Kenny the opportunity to push Chris Crummey up into the forwards. He’s a tight marker, he’s fast and he’s the type of player who allows Dublin to have a better-balanced side. He was brilliant in the league against Wexford in Croke Park earlier in the year.
He’d done an excellent job on Rory O’Connor until he got injured and after he went off, Rory O’Connor kicked on and that had a massive impact on Wexford winning that game. I think he’s going to be a big player for Dublin in the coming months because he’s a player you can get to mark one of the opposing team’s best players. I think the Ballyboden St Enda’s man could be a crucial player for Dublin this year.
JACK O’CONNOR (WEXFORD)
It’s the pick of the O’Connor brothers here for me in Jack O’Connor. He’s been around for the last couple of years and he’s at the right age (25). Outside of Lee Chin, his own brother Rory O’Connor, Mathew O’Hanlon and Liam Ryan, I think he could be a massive player for Wexford going forward. He came on and scored a great goal against Dublin in the league earlier in the year and that turned the game around. He’s very versatile as you can play him anywhere.
He’s played wing-back, midfield and wing forward and I remember watching him in the U21 championship and thinking to myself, ‘Jesus, this lad has something about him’. He has all the attributes you need and I think the next couple of years could be his best. I’ve no doubt that he could be the ‘go-to guy’ for Wexford in the big games in the championship.
JACK KELLY (LAOIS)
The obvious choices for Laois are Ross King, Paddy Purcell and Aaron Dunphy. There’s a new lad coming on the horizon in Eoin Gaughan as well and he’s excellent but the player I’m most looking forward to seeing is Jack Kelly. He was an All-Star nominee last year but it went under the radar because all the talk was about Enda Rowland. I thought he was superb against Dublin in the championship and then he was even better against Tipperary when he got man of the match. He did a great job on ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer that day. For him to get an All-Star nominee was massive for Laois. He put in some exceptional performances at right wing-back last year and he’s a man to keep an eye out for on the Laois team.
FINTAN BURKE (GALWAY)
The likes of Sean Loftus have been doing well for the last couple of years but Fintan Burke is a player who I think is top class. He suffered a cruciate injury in the All Ireland club final for St Thomas against Ballyhale last year and that was unfortunate because he would have made that Galway team. He’s a cousin of David Burke and not alone was he captain of the Galway U21 team in 2018 but he was Galway U21 hurler of the year too.
He’s a very versatile player who can play in any position in the backs. He done very well in the league this year, especially against Tipperary in Salthill. Galway need a couple of players who can rejuvenate things and to bring a bit of freshness to the setup. Not alone this year but I think Fintan could potentially develop into becoming one of the main leaders in the Galway team.