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Best of 2017 – Sixteen young players to look out for in the Senior football championship

Laois minor Diarmuid Whelan, pictured here, has been nominated for minor player of the week
The Laois U-20 footballers begin tonight and Diarmuid Whelan will be part of the team

In July of this year, Alan Hartnett made up his list of sixteen young players to look out for in the Senior football championship. 

The list includes players from every club, with Ballyfin Gaels’ Robert Tyrell and Ballyroan-Abbey’s Diarmuid Whelan in particular putting in exceptional performances. 

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The most important competition in club football in Laois gets underway this week as the Senior championship begins.

There are eight games to look forward to this week – one this evening, one on Friday, two on Saturday and four on Sunday.

Stradbally are reigning champions after they ended Portlaoise’s almost decade long stranglehold on the trophy.

But the Town will once again be the team to beat as 16 teams go in search of glory.

But ahead of the start of the competition, and just like we did with the Senior hurling last week, we’ve taken a look at one promising young star from each team who should make a real impression in the championship.

Arles-Kilcruise – Cialann Mulhall

The men from Arles-Kilcruise are noted as an ageing side but they do have some young guns in their arsenal.

Mikey Wall, Mark Wall, Dylan Waters and Ciarán Lawlor are amongst them but we’ve given the nod to Cialann Mulhall.

This will be his first championship campaign for Kilcruise and this defender will prove a tough customer for any attacker.

Arles-Killeen – Cathal Moran-O’Brien

Arles-Killeen will hope to be battling at the business end of the championship once again having been beaten by Portlaoise in recent years.

They are under the stewardship of Eoin Kearns this year and didn’t enjoy the greatest of league campaigns but will look to turn that around against Portarlington.

In a team with few really young players, we’ve gone for wing back Cathal Moran-O’Brien. He has a great ability to get up and down the pitch and can also kick scores when required.

Ballyfin Gaels – Robert Tyrrell

Ballyfin Gaels are a little bit of an unknown quantity. Nobody fancied them to win the Intermediate championship in 2015 and a similar majority believed they wouldn’t stay up in 2016.

Yet they did both of those things and they face into a game against O’Dempsey’s with absolutely nothing to lose.

They’ve brought through the likes of Seán Moore, Max Connolly, David Connolly and Darragh Connolly in recent years but their newest recruits, Camross’ Robert Tyrell, could be a big player for them after a number of stand-out displays for the Laois minors.

However, he is also due to line out for Camross tonight in the junior A championship against Park-Ratheniska so it will be interesting to see what decision he makes.

Ballylinan – Cathail Dunne
The Ballylinan team who beat Portarlington in the ACFL Division 1B final tonight
The Ballylinan team who beat Portarlington in the ACFL Division 1B final tonight

Ballylinan reached the quarter finals last year and will be looking to go further this time.

But they are going to have to do it without Gary Walsh this time as he is out with a knee injury.

They have exciting talents like Seamus Lacey, Kevin Byrne, James Redmond and Cathal Fennessy but, in the absence of Walsh, league final winner Cathail Dunne could be the man to shine.

Ballyroan-Abbey – Diarmuid Whelan
Laois minor Diarmuid Whelan, pictured here, has been nominated for minor player of the week
Laois minor Diarmuid Whelan, pictured here, has been nominated for minor player of the week

Ballyroan-Abbey endured a difficult league but the championship could be a different story for Pat Ryan’s men.

They too have brought through a number of young players over the years with Adam Brennan, Conor Brennan and Martin Scully all well established at this stage.

However, Diarmuid Whelan, who was excellent for the Laois minors this year, is certainly their one to watch.

Clonaslee-St Manman’s Gaels – Paddy Hyland
The Clonaslee Vocational School team who won the Leinster final today
The Clonaslee Vocational School team who won the Leinster final

The amalgamation of Clonaslee-St Manman’s and Annanough is a strange one and it will certainly be interesting to see how it plays out.

Both sides have young players but we’ve gone for Paddy Hyland as the one to watch.

He’s had an incredible 2017 already, scoring freely at minor level and also excelling in hurling with Clonaslee seniors, where he made our team of the week, and his school. A really bright prospect.

Crettyard Gaels – Michael Nash

Crettyard struggled through the league in 2016 before reaching the semi-finals for the first time in their history.

2017 has begun in the same fashion but will it end up the same way as 12 months ago?

Evan O’Carroll and Cormac Murphy will carry the scoring mantle for the side but expect the impressive Michael Nash to chip in when required.

Graiguecullen – Brian Byrne
Brian Byrne played in the Leinster U-21 semi final for Laois
Brian Byrne played in the Leinster U-21 semi final for Laois

Graiguecullen staved off relegation last year thanks to the incredible heroics of teenager Luke Hand.

But he has not appeared this season for the Barrowsiders who’ve had young stars in the form of Paul Mulready and Ross Hennessy instead.

However, Brian Byrne played very well for the Laois U-21s in the early part of the year and he will be a big player for his club this year.

Killeshin – Evan Lowry
Evan Lowry celebrates after scoring his side's goal during the Leinster Minor Championship Semi-Final match between Laois and Offaly
Evan Lowry celebrates after scoring his side’s goal during the Leinster Minor Championship Semi-Final match between Laois and Offaly

Killeshin have an incredibly low-age profile with the majority of their team aged below 25.

Players like Shane Bolger and Adam Deering have progressed well this year and Killeshin will be poised to test Graiguecullen.

But we’ve gone for forward Evan Lowry. Younger brother of Eoin, he was part of the Laois minor team which reached the Leinster final last year and has been flying for Killeshin this year.

Mountmellick Gaels – Jason Caffrey
The Mountmellick team who took on Courtwood in the ACFL Division 2 final
The Mountmellick team who took on Courtwood in the ACFL Division 2 final

Mountmellick Gaels are coming into the championship after winning Division 2 and are on the up.

They have assembled a side containing a number of players who came through together over the last number of years like Darren Fitzpatrick, Mark Dowling and Laurence Kenny.

But one of their younger lights is Jason Caffrey – a classy corner forward with an eye for goal.

O’Dempsey’s – Johnny Kelly
Johnny Kelly in action for Laois during the Leinster Football Minor Championship Semi-Final match between Laois and Offaly
Johnny Kelly in action for Laois during the Leinster Football Minor Championship Semi-Final match between Laois and Offaly

O’Dempsey’s are intermediate champions and picked up the Division 1A title a few weeks ago.

It’s been an incredible 12 months for the Killenard men but they will want to make their mark on the senior championship now.

Darren Fitzpatrick and Matthew Finlay are two of their stand-out younger players but Johnny Kelly is equally impressive and he just gets the nod.

Portarlington – Jake Foster
The Portarlington team who lost to Ballylinan in Stradbally tonight
The Portarlington team who lost to Ballylinan in Stradbally

Portarlington are an extremely young team who have threatened to deliver for years but never managed to get there.

They once again have players like Diarmuid Bennett, Paddy O’Sullivan, Robbie Piggott, Eoin McCann, Steven Lyons and Jason Ward who are all in the early stages of their careers.

But the one we’ve gone for is Jake Foster. Not the biggest but is extremely tenacious and will score in every game he plays.

Portlaoise – John Kavanagh

One criticism of Portlaoise in recent years is that they have failed to bring through players from underage to their senior team.

A lot of that was down to the fact that the Town won nine titles in a row with a team who were all around the same age.

However, if the league is anything to go by, that will change. Benny Carroll and Frank Flanagan played a lot this year and so too has John Kavanagh. A quick forward who may well see action this year.

St Joseph’s – Peter Kealy
The St Joseph's team who played O'Dempsey's this evening
The St Joseph’s team who played O’Dempsey’s this evening

St Joseph’s began the year like a train but they have slightly come off the tracks in recent months.

The loss of several players abroad has hampered them but the recent transfer in of Brian Daly will help.

Daly, James Kelly and Willie McDonald fit the bill of promising young players but we’ve gone for Peter Kealy.

He was one of the most promising players in the county last year before suffering a horrific knee injury. He’s back now though and could be a big player for the Kellyville men.

Stradbally – Jack Deegan

Stradbally who defeated Portlaoise in the SFC final - they sit high up in our rankings
Stradbally who defeated Portlaoise in the SFC final – they sit high up in our rankings

The county champions got a burst of young players a few years ago and those lads were a big part in their success last year.

Eoin Buggie, Liam Knowles and Tom Shiel all came through three years ago and really shone last year on the way to victory.

This year, Jack Langton, Justin Lalor and Benny Lawlor have emerged but we’ve gone for Jack Deegan. With Darren Maher suspended for Round 1, Deegan could be the man to fill his shoes.

The Heath – James Phelan

The Heath are another side ravaged by the absence of key players who have gone abroad.

But it has created an opportunity for some of their younger players to shine.

And one of those who has taken that opportunity is James Phelan. He has caught the eye at wing back throughout the league and The Heath will hope that continues in the championship.

SEE ALSO – Who’s who on the new Laois GAA County Board

The LaoisToday 2017 Annual is now on sale in bookshops and newsagents around the county – this is where you can buy it

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