Future good for Ulster teams with rising stars sparkling
With the Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup reaching the semi-final stage, we earmark the top 10 talents in Ulster that have emerged so far.
ANTRIM - EAMON FYFE
Eamon Fyfe made his debut in midweek against Down and could be the most likely youngster to feature in Lenny Harbinson's bid to escape Division Four over the Spring. From one of the lesser-heralded clubs in the county, Con Magee's Glenravel, he was a willowy, pacy forward two years ago when starring for the county under-20 team against Down. He then enjoyed a spell playing soccer for Ballymena. Has since bulked up considerably and appears set for the rigours of senior football.
ARMAGH - CONOR TURBITT
Made his debut against Cavan and registered 2-2 on the day, his first a catch and neat tuck underneath Ray Galligan, the second a blast to the net after being played in by Stefan Campbell. On Wednesday night, he added another four points to his name, two of them 'marks' in the thriller against Tyrone. From Lurgan club Clann Eireann, he is lightning fast and has the nickname 'Turbo.' As can be seen from his first two games he is very accurate and is one of the most exciting talents to emerge from the Orchard Academy since its establishment.
CAVAN - CONOR SMITH
The Killygarry clubman has been long mapped as an exciting young talent in the county, ever since winning a MacRory Cup with St Patrick's Cavan in 2015. However, a cruciate ligament injury at a critical stage of his development, along with various injuries arising out of the complications that have followed, has left him slightly behind the curve and, for now, injury-prone. A neat corner-forward he is quite small but very strong and can win his own ball. He played well on his debut against Armagh, picking up two points, one a mark, and was singled out by manager Mickey Graham for praise after the defeat to Tyrone.
DERRY - BEN McCARRON
We are cheating slightly here as McCarron, from the Derry City club Steelstown is not entirely new. He made his senior debut in the 2019 Dr McKenna Cup against Fermanagh and scored a hat-trick of goals, before then manager Damian McErlain promptly sent him back to Mickey Donnelly's under-20 team to boost their chances. Rory Gallagher has brought him into the fold and he has registered 0-2, with one free against Monaghan. He also scored a mark against Donegal in the low-scoring midweek game. But it is with ball in hand, offering a physical presence in attack, where his developing strengths will lie. Much to offer Derry in future years.
DONEGAL - JEAIC MacCEALLABHUI
MacCeallabhui has had a busy few months, with his club Naomh Conaill eventually getting the better of county and Ulster champions Gaoth Dobhair in the long-running county final saga, before getting to the Ulster club final where they ran up against a Kilcoo side that refused to lose on the day. A dogged and determined back, he possesses the traits much-prized within his club. A young man with much to offer in the coming years.
DOWN - LIAM KERR
In his senior debut against Fermanagh, Burren youngster Liam Kerr was one of a number of substitutes that came on and changed the pattern of the game. Taking his place after 18 minutes as a replacement for Conall Gallagher, Kerr ended up with 1-3, one of those points a free. It was his wonderful finish at the end of a flowing counter-attacking move, Barry O'Hagan showing lovely soft hands to palm a high ball down to Daniel Guinness before he transferred to Kerr, that marks him out.
FERMANAGH - BRANDON HORAN
The Enniskillen Gaels youngster captained his school St Michael's College last year to the MacRory and Hogan Cup successes, leaving many suggesting that he was oven-ready for senior county football and speculation that Fermanagh manager Rory Gallagher was going to call him into his panel. He didn't in the end, but his successor Ryan McMenamin has already given him his county debut against Down. Eventually he could be the man to replace Eoin Donnelly or Ryan Jones in the midfield sector, but for now, the teenager has the potential to become a powerful middle-eight performer.
MONAGHAN - AARON MULLIGAN
Monaghan manager Seamus 'Banty' McEnaney was the man that nurtured the early career of Conor McManus, converting him from a wing-back and starting the process that has ended with McManus one of the finest forwards of his generation. Aaron Mulligan therefore, with 1-4 in his debut against Derry, is in good hands. With Conor Laverty coaching and Peter Donnelly looking after his physical requirements, there is a good chance he may not be left to play with only the under-20 squad.
TYRONE - CONN KILPATRICK
Edendork youngster Kilpatrick made his debut against Cavan and promptly won man of the match. In an area that could do with some depth, he could be a real find for Mickey Harte in 2020. With Colm Cavanagh creeping on in years and the Red Hands desperate to find a foil for the skills of Richie Donnelly, he could find himself fast-tracked.