Ready to make the breakthrough

With the focus firmly on the club scene across Ireland, Michael McMullan looks at some of players with the potential to make their imprint on the 2023 inter-county season…

Antrim – Conor Stewart

AFTER missing out on most of 2022 with injury, the All Saints man made a return in time to face Cavan in this year’s Ulster Championship.

The All Saints’ player experienced Grade A football in his time at St Louis Ballymena and developed into a player Enda McGinley called into the Saffrons’ squad during this tenure.

He played a starring role for his club last Friday night as they aim to challenge for the intermediate title under former Antrim manager Liam ‘Baker’ Bradley.

A superb athlete, he is someone new boss Andy McEntee could mould into a regular for the next chapter of Antrim’s development.

Armagh – Conor Turbitt

AFTER helping Clann Éireann to senior glory in Armagh, he moved into the county senior ranks after being tipped for greatness during his underage career.

‘Turbo’ started just one game last season, their Ulster Championship defeat to Donegal, and made half a dozen of appearances from the bench while still amassing 2-7 (their sixth top scorer) for Kieran McGeeney’s side. Armagh will be looking to take their 2022 progress a step further and make a serious challenge for the Anglo Celt Cup and Turbitt has the tools to add to Armagh’s attack on a more regular basis.

Cavan – Fionntán O’Reilly

AT club level, Fionntán O’Reilly kicked 0-6 as Butlersbridge edged out Ballyhaise to land 2021 intermediate honours.

When Damien Donohoe was assembling his u-20 squad, O’Reilly was an important cog as they overcame a fancied Derry side and ran eventual All-Ireland champions to the pin of their collar in an Ulster final they should’ve won. He joined older brother Caoimhin on  Mickey Graham’s senior squad, but didn’t feature after the McKenna Cup.

Cavan face another defining season in 2023 as they aim to climb back up the ladder and O’Reilly could play his part.

BREFFNI BLUE…Fionntán O’Reilly has delivered at club and inter-county underage level

Derry – Oisin McWilliams

A BROKEN jaw ruled the Swatragh man out of most of the championship after establishing himself in Rory Gallagher’s plans.

McWilliams is the tall, rangy, athletic player Derry are craving for as they aim to add to the gameplan that brought them all the way to Ulster glory in 2022.

An All-Ireland minor finalist in 2017, he attracted interest from AFL scouts and spent time on trial ‘Down Under’.

Swatragh have won both championship games so far and McWilliams has rotated between midfield and full forward with a degree of success.

Another winter in the gym should leave him well-place to hit the ground running for Derry next season.

Donegal – Niall O’Donnell

HE shot Donegal to Ulster minor glory in 2016 and has been in and around the senior panel since.

The St Eunan’s man was to the fore as his club got their hands on the Dr Maguire Cup last season, but – barring a start in the league against Tyrone – was used as an impact man from the bench.

It was his accuracy that helped take Derry down in the 2020 Ulster Championship and in an attack reliant on Michael Murphy, O’Donnell has the potential to become the team’s playmaker at number 11.

His brother Shane and Conor O’Donnell will be important next season as well, but the new Donegal manager needs to find a link man to pull the piece of the puzzle together. Niall O’Donnell could be that man.

Down – Ceilum Doherty

THE news of Conor Laverty taking over the Down hotseat gives them a chance to hit the ground running after finding themselves snookered with the late appointment of James McCartan.

Much of the chatter will be about how many of the Kilcoo contingent are  invited and decide to throw their lot in with the county. Ceilum Doherty made four appearances before heading to America for a summer of football, but Laverty could invite him on board as someone to help Down build a settled team to gain an element of stability.

Playing alongside each other, Laverty will know the impact he makes and could give him the call.

Fermanagh – Che and Lee Cullen

KIERAN Donnelly almost brought Fermanagh into the promotion race last season and gave Tyrone all they wanted before falling short in the championship.

The Tailteann Cup defeat to Cavan was the only time Donnelly used any more than four substitutes, showing the lack of depth.

He has a chance to unearth more talent from watching club action, but the addition of twins Lee and Che Cullen is a massive boost to their hopes.

They tick the experienced player bracket more than the rookie one, but they will be a duo Fermanagh fans will look forward to seeing in action.

WELCOME RETURN…Lee Cullen will be a perfect addtion to Kieran Donnelly’s plans

Monaghan – Sean Jones

THE Inniskeen star played in the last six of Monaghan’s games this season – five of which as substitute appearances – to give him valuable experience ahead of 2023.

He spent a summer kicking ball in America and has former Armagh star Oisin McConville to give him any necessary pointers to take his game to the next level. The Farney County have yet to appoint a new manager, but getting fresh faces into their attack will be he high up the priority list. If they can get another season out of Conor McManus, Jones could push himself into a regular up front alongside the likes of Jack McCarron and Gary Mohan.

Tyrone – Ruairi Canavan

HIS older brother Darragh stepped into the senior ranks and a magical summer as the fulcrum of Tyrone’s u-20 All-Ireland success leaves  the latest of the Canavan family  perfectly placed to have a crack at the big time. Balance, movement and accuracy hang off his his every contribution. Getting a championship run with Errigal Ciaran will help him further, but managers Feargal Logan and Brian Dooher have a marquee forward in waiting on their books.

Maintain his hunger for success and staying injury free will be important, but Canavan has serious potential to dine at the top table of attacking aces.

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