We ask, are the GAA’s top awards for young players a foregone conclusion this year due to the performances of two of the GAA’s newest superstars?
Having guided Mayo to All-Ireland u21 glory earlier this year, last year’s Young Footballer Of The Year Diarmuid O’Connor is in line to do what his older brother Cillian did, and win the award for the second year in a row.
O’Connor deservedly saw off Ryan McHugh to claim last year’s award. His performances were simply sublime during a season where Mayo suffered more heartbreak. After claiming provincial honours, Mayo were on the end of a hugely disappointing replay loss to the Dubs.
After brothers Cillian and Diarmuid O’Connor lead Mayo’s dramatic comeback to claim a 2-12 to 1-15 draw, Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly’s men weren’t able to get over the line in the replay.
The younger Ballintubber man managed three points from play in those two games. His overall workrate and willingness to get involved saw O’Connor claim the award.
This year has been no different. O’Connor lead the u21’s to glory after a thrilling final battle with Cork and the 21 year-old now sees himself in a senior final after a run of impressive displays.
O’Connor missed Mayo’s Round 4 clash with Westmeath due to a dead leg injury and certainly didn’t look to be a hundred percent fit against Tyrone seven days later. However, the fact that Stephen Rochford insisted that O’Connor would start the clash with the Ulster kingpins highlights his importance to the side, even at such a young age.
The Ballintubber native hasn’t set the world alight but his consistency, workrate and footballing brain mean he is the frontrunner once again for the Young Footballer Of The Year award.
In hurling terms, there is one name on everybody’s lips. Austin Gleeson’s performances this summer were nothing short of outstanding. Waterford’s run to the All-Ireland semi-final was eventful, with the Munster final proving to be a setback much larger than anticipated.
However, Waterford got over the line against Wexford in the All-Ireland quarter-final before producing two outstanding displays against Kilkenny, lead by 21 year-old Austin Gleeson.
Aron Shanagher of Clare, Cian Lynch of Limerick, Conor Whelan of Galway and Ronan Maher of Tipperary in particular deserve a mention.
Maher has been superb for Tipperary this summer. His composure, skill and physical presence have been key factors in Tipp’s march to the All-Ireland final. The Thurles Sarsfields man displays maturity far beyond his years at the heart of the Tipperary defence.
However, Gleeson’s performances for Waterford have been unrivalled. The Mount Sion man’s sheer athleticism and pace make him one of the most naturally gifted athletes in the game. Then there is his hurling ability.
Fielding, striking, first touch, sideline cuts. You name it. Gleeson has it. He set the championship alight with two magnificent individual performances in the drawn and replayed semi-finals against the Cats.
Gleeson is not only a contender for Young Hurler of The Year but for Hurler Of The Year too. His performances at u21 level have been sublime too and the former All-Ireland minor medal winner will hope to claim u21 national glory next month, when the Déise face Galway in the final.
The performances of both Gleeson and O’Connor have been superb and both players are almost certainly guaranteed to claim Young Hurler and Young Footballer Of The Year honours in a couple of months time.
Seán Ó Murchú, Pundit Arena