Our preview of the National Football League continues with a look at five players that could make a difference as GAA returns to the TV screens. Most of these players are returning to their sides for different reasons after a period away.
*Younger players often fail to see significant league action as they tend to be involved with under-21 or third-level sides and are more likely to be ones to look out for come the summer.
1. Tommy Walsh (Kerry)
The Kerryman has returned from Australia following a stint as a professional player in the AFL. He has returned to the Kerry panel and joins a bunch of players that will be determined to retain their All-Ireland crown.
They say champions’ biggest challenge is to motivate themselves and to improve on what had been a successful formula in the previous season. Kerry have a certain Colm Cooper to return to the fold along with Walsh, both of whom have won All-Ireland medals and been key members of Kerry sides in the past.
The most interesting thing to watch in Tommy Walsh’s case will be the position he plays in. He was used as an inside-forward in his early days in a Kerry jersey but there has been talk of a move further back the field as he returns.
2. Martin Clarke (Down)
Martin Clarke has also returned from Australia, for the second time. He returned in 2010 and played for Down for two seasons before returning to Australia again to play in the AFL. He was Ireland’s first real success story Down Under since Tadhg Kennelly and was relatively successful in his last stint as a Gaelic footballer.
He led Down to the All-Ireland final in 2010. He returned to Collingwood at the end of 2011 and three years later he has returned to Ireland and this time it seems to be for good. He has yet to link up with the Down panel since so it is hard to know how much game time he will see in the league, but he will definitely be worth looking out for.
He was a class act in his two years as a senior footballer. His creativity and movement was outstanding. The ball simply seemed to follow him and he brought other players into the game at ease. He also provided a decent amount of scores and it will be interesting to see if he can reach these heights on his second return.
3. Brendan Murphy (Carlow)
The fact that Murphy plies his trade with Carlow may make it seem like an odd selection for ‘one-to-watch’, but the reality is that on his day Murphy is one of Ireland’s best footballers. He would start for any team in the country and is set to return to the Carlow side for 2015 having been absent last year.
Success to Carlow can often be winning just one championship game. Despite receiving one of the heaviest defeats of all time to Meath in Leinster in 2014, they made a remarkable recovery to beat Waterford the following weekend. So, it turned out not to be the worst 2014. Maybe 2015 will be better with Murphy’s return.
He is a colossus around the middle of the field. Carlow playing in Division 4 means he is unlikely to gain much media attention, but don’t be surprised to hear about big performances from the Carlow man.
4. Eoin Bradley (Derry)
The next man is another proven player returning to the intercounty stage, Derry’s Eoin Bradley. After an absence of twelve months, when he opted to play soccer with Coleraine, Bradley is set to return to the Derry football team and combine it with his soccer career for the start of the season.
Bradley was a big hit with Coleraine where he scored 10 goals in 18 games. He played soccer only in 2014 and now looks set to combine the pair following discussion with management. There is no doubt that he is a very good footballer at his best, and could help Derry to build on some potential that was shown last year, mainly in the league.
He will be worth watching to see if he can manage to combine both of his commitments. We saw how much of a debate the ‘dual player’ caused between hurling and football last year. So, how will it work for football and soccer?
5. Patrick Kelly (Cork)
Fitness has been a problem for the Cork man over the last few seasons and people tend to forget what a key role he played for the Rebels during their successful seasons of old. He was the key link between defence and attack and has not been close to his best form for a few years now. That may be ready to change.
One only has to look at the role he played for his club Ballincollig as he led them to their first county title. He was outstanding and showed the level of performances that made him one of Cork’s top class players a few years ago. Now that he looks to be fully fit, he may help a potential regressing Cork side to move forward again.
He is due to sit out the opening game against Dublin which may suggest that he is being wrapped in cotton wool until the summer. But if he is to see game time it will be interesting to see if he can get back to his very best form.
Sean Cremin, Pundit Arena.