Two years ago, Ciaran Byrne entered the national consciousness as a rising star talent, lighting up the 2013 All-Ireland qualifier campaign before jetting off to the AFL.
Ryan Burns was the breakthrough man last summer, scoring a memorable goal on his debut against Westmeath though Conor Grimes could very well be the most exciting talent yet.
With almost 50 minutes on the clock on Saturday evening in Drogheda, Louth led by just four points when the big man stripped off and entered the action.
A man mountain, his first intervention was to seize possession, burst past two defenders and fire a brilliant shot to the Leitrim net from an acute angle on the right.
Shortly after, he added a point and, suddenly, the game was all but over. Grimes did feature last summer but at just 20 he is learning all the time and appears a tremendous talent.
“He’s 6’3”, 14 and a half stone and plays like a fella of five foot seven,” said manager Colin Kelly.
“He has two brilliant feet too. The goal he took, it was a polished finish, no panic about it.
“He’s a seriously talented fella, naive in a lot of the stuff he does and probably his fitness levels need to get higher. But in terms of his skill set, it’s high.
“How good can he be? Well he’s got awesome talent. His range of shooting is outrageous. He’s quick, he’s strong and can take his scores. As I said, his decision making and stuff needs to improve but at 20 years of age he’s a serious prospect.”
Whisper it quietly but Louth could just be onto something with this young group. They’ve been hit hard by retirements and defections and from the side that faced Kildare last summer, they’ve lost both midfielders - including the mercurial Paddy Keenan - and three of the six forwards.
But the likes of Man of the Match Bevan Duffy, Grimes and Burns are great talents while Darren O’Hanlon, 23, locked down the centre-back position in commanding fashion. Midfielders Tommy Durnin and James Califf are 23 and 24 while sub Eoghan Lafferty, who came on after Padraig Rath’s early black card, is just 19.
“We’re a proud county and we don’t want to be where we are,” continued Kelly. “Hopefully we’ll start making strides up the ladder, sooner rather than later with a team that’s going to have a bit of longevity, rather than a quick fix.”
Leitrim were well beaten by Galway in the Connacht championship and came to Drogheda with a cautious game plan. From the throw in, wing-forward Shane Quinn reverted to the half-back line, freeing up Danny Beck to perform a sweeper’s role.
They picked off some great scores, particularly through Fergal Clancy who boomed over four from play. But as the half wore on they began to take wild pot shots and the scores simply came easier to Louth who led 0-11 to 0-8 at half-time.
Kevin Conlan’s fourth of five points for Leitrim on the evening did reduce their arrears to three early in the second-half. But the excellent Paraic Smith put four in it again before Grimes was brought on to devastating effect.
Introducing a speedy, battering ram attacker to run at a tired defence was a clever move though Kelly revealed afterwards they always planned to take off Burns around the 50th minute due to a calf injury.
“We knew that Grimes would come on the pitch at some stage and would provide that threat,” said Leitrim manager Shane Ward.
“When he did come on, that was obviously the instructions he was given, to use the strengths of his game and his execution was fantastic. The goal just came for them at the right time.”
C Grimes (1-1), P Smith, J Califf (three frees) and R Holcroft (0-3 each), R Burns (0-2, one free), D Byrne, B Duffy, C Judge and D Maguire (0-1 each).
K Conlan (0-5, three frees), F Clancy (0-4), D Beck and A McLoughlin (0-1 each).
E Lafferty for Rath (10, B/C), D Maguire for McKeever (40), C Grimes for Burns (47), G McSorley for Smith (57), R Moore for Duffy (63), Peter Kirwin for Holcroft (69).
J McGrail for Moran (21), R Kennedy for McGowan (44), C Farrell for Beck (51), M Plunkett for Wrynn (57).
Ciaran Branagan (Down).