TOM LYONS highlights ten West Cork footballers who have the talent to light up 2018
THE past 12 months were a great year for young players in West Cork, especially in hurling, with Luke Meade, Michael Cahalane, Ciarán Nyhan and Ronan McCarthy all wearing the red shirt of Cork with pride and distinction. It was so unusual to see West Cork hurlers grabbing the headlines in Cork hurling and the uniqueness of it made it all the more enjoyable. We look forward to seeing all four progressing in 2018.
Here we deal with the young footballers in West Cork who have caught our eye in 2017 and who left us wanting to see more from them in 2018.
Michael Hurley (Castlehaven): Although he seems to have been around forever and is already a Cork senior championship player, it’s hard to believe Hurley was still U21 this past season. 2018 will be his first year out of U21, which means people will be expecting wonders from him as he concentrates on one grade. Injury played havoc with him in 2016 but he got a good run of games in 2017 and seems poised to deliver on the senior stage with Castlehaven and Cork. The Cork football team badly needs goal-scorers and Hurley could be one part of that answer.
Mark Buckley (Dohenys): Well known to all football followers now because of his star role with Cork minors a couple of years ago, he came on as a sub at U21 level this season. He was outstanding for Dohenys in their successful South West U21 campaign but often played a lone hand up front at senior level in the green shirt. Like Hurley he may lack inches but has explosive pace. Needs to work on his shooting but if Cork footballers put together a development squad in 2018, he would be an ideal candidate. Again, like Hurley, he creates excitement every time he touches the ball, a real sign of a good player.
Martin Collins (Kilmacabea): One of the new young breed of Kilmacabea players who finally got the club over the line in their quest for the South West junior A title. His work rate and staying power at midfield plus his ability to run in a straight line for the opposing goal have set him apart. If anything he is too brave on the pitch, still impetuous, but once he gains more experience at a higher level, he will be knocking on the Cork door.
Adam Murphy (Bandon): Another exciting prospect in both codes. The thing about all great players is that they have an x-factor that you can’t quite analyse; so it is with young Murphy. Fast, strong, fearless, dare say headstrong, and independent on the pitch. One of the most talented players to wear the Lilywhite colours since the days of Wilmot and Gabriel.
Damien Gore (Kilmacabea): The highest scoring forward in West Cork football in 2017, the sky looks the limit for this young player. In his first year in adult grade he was instrumental in Kilmac’s long-awaited success. A different type of corner forward than Buckley and Hurley, he is impossible to hold and has great skill. If there’s a fault, it’s that he tries too much on his own but he will grow through that. He is another play who would benefit greatly from playing in a higher grade with the Kilmacs and at the moment the sky looks the limit for this unique talent.
Keith White (Dohenys): Still a minor, the young Doheny forward was a joy to watch in action in both the minor and U21 successful campaigns in 2017. Light and frail-looking, he has blinding pace, an incredible work rate and a never-say-die spirit. He will fill out over the coming seasons but if he continues his present rate of progress, he will be a superb prospect for Cork U20s and Doheny seniors. He is one of those players who really excites the crowd. If I were ranking players in every grade for 2017 he would probably take top spot.
Damien O’Gorman (Kilmeen): Already well-established on the club’s junior team as a top-notch dual star, he was superb with Kilmeen’s U21 footballers this season. A laid back style with deceptive pace, he is always in the right place, capable of vital scores and never seems to rush anything. Will become a top-notch play-making centre forward in the years ahead and is a gifted all-rounder.
Stephen Leonard (Ilen Rovers): It’s only natural that nearly all our young nominees for future glory are forwards as it is forwards who set games on fire with their scores, while the defenders do the thankless work at the back. Leonard is as exciting a forward as we have seen in many a long day. Without him in the replay against Carbery, Ilen seniors looked very lost up front. Pace, ball-control work rate, leadership qualities, an eye for the posts, Leonard possesses the lot and is the best we’ve seen from Ilen since Kevin O’Sullivan was in his prime.
Seán McEvoy ( Clonakilty): Already an established star with Clon senior footballers and junior hurlers, he is still U21 next season and has shared in all Clon’s U21 successes in recent years in both codes. He possesses lovely balance, a great burst of speed, the ability to lose his marker and, again, tremendous work-rate all over the pitch. He is one of the young stars, a former Cork minor, that Clon are putting their faith in for a bright future.
Josh O’Donovan (Kilbrittain): It might have been a rarity one time (bar Owen Sexton), a young Kilbrittain star who is probably a better footballer than he is a hurler but O’Donovan, just out of minor, is a real dual star. Again, like all good young forwards he has great pace and a fierce work rate and in football is a natural goal-scorer, rarely leaving the pitch without raising a green flag. One of the up and coming young stars that Kilbrittain Gaels are pinning their future hopes on in both codes.