Jack Barry (Na Gaeil, Kerry)
Excellent against Donegal on opening day and impressive in the first half of the defeat to Mayo the following week, Barry then suffered a little from his exploits with UCD but was so good in the Tralee game against Dublin and followed it up again in Sunday’s final with a strong accompanying role alongside man-of-the-match David Moran. Already shaping up to be what Brian Fenton was for Dublin in 2015.
Niall Scully (Templeogue-Synge Street, Dublin)
The stand-out player for Dublin’s experimental side in the O’Byrne Cup, Scully was man of the match in the opening day win over Cavan. Scully is versatile and is possibly more suited to the half-back line although competition for spots along that line is heavy at the moment. He looked leggy in the first half of the defeat to Monaghan and was replaced by Diarmuid Connolly but then came on for him in Sunday’s final.
Jack McCarron (Currin, Monaghan)
The 24-year-old was so good this spring, that he put Conor McManus in the shade. He almost beat Dublin by himself in the final round game in Clones and after a barrage of injuries there will be great satisfaction in the county that he is finally coming to the fore at a time when Monaghan need more than McManus up-front to take the next step. His presence alone has cut Monaghan’s Ulster SFC odds.
Ciarán Thompson (Naomh Conaill, Donegal)
If Donegal lost experience over the winter in the likes of retiring Éamonn McGee and Neil Gallagher, they lost downright talent in unavailable Odhrán Mac Niallais. However, the brilliant form of Thompson in the half-forward line has compensated for Mac Niallais’s absence. “I’ve never seen a better left foot in all my life,” gushed Brendan Devenney recently. Having made his senior debut last year, Thompson’s consistent point-taking has been a highlight of Donegal’s league campaign.
Michael Daly (Mountbellew/ Moylough, Galway)
Son of former star Val, U21 player Daly only made his first senior start in the Division 2 Round 1 draw with Cork. Because of his U21 commitments, some of his appearances since then have come from the bench but that’s not to say he hasn’t been influential, as he demonstrated in Sunday’s final win over Kildare when he kicked two points. Against Derry, scored two points and set up two goals.
Ronan Shanahan (Austin Stacks, Kerry)
Shanahan’s detail on Paddy Andrews in Croke Park last weekend has been earning him plenty of praise but to be there he had to earn it, as he did in games like the home defeat to Mayo — his debut, where he bravely denied Jason Doherty a certain goal with his head — and against Roscommon. Places in Kerry’s full-back line will come at a higher premium when Brian Ó Beaglaoich returns from U21 duties but Shanahan will be difficult to budge.
Stephen Coen (Hollymount-Carramore, Mayo)
Mayo had another mediocre spring but last year’s All-Ireland U21 winning captain, who was a minor skipper before that, was one of their most consistent performers. Like Barry, the 21-year-old also had distractions with UCD but he has built on last season when he was regularly coming off the bench and was integral to Mayo turning their game against Kerry in their favour. A precocious player who looks physically ready-made for the senior game.
Ben McCormack (Sarsfields, Kildare)
A tidy 1-3 in his first ever league game for the Lilywhites against Meath (his goal coming after just 13 seconds) and 1-2 in the home win over Cork a week later, U21 McCormack has been the type of dangerous inside forward Kildare have been crying out for. Obviously benefiting from a surprise element but demonstrated enough in the last few months to prove he can add to the Kildare attack, as Niall Kelly has.
Eoin McHugh (Kilcar, Donegal)
No surprise that the son of James, nephew of Martin and cousin of Mark and Ryan was going to carry on where he left off last year when he provided glimpses of his potential. McHugh scored the winning point in the second round game in Roscommon and found the net in the victory over Cavan. Obviously, McHugh’s pace stands out but it’s also his speed of thought and balance that makes him such a special footballer.
Conor Meyler (Omagh, Tyrone)
Like McCarron, we might have been hearing more about Meyler by this stage but for injury, although he has already done plenty in claiming an U21 All-Ireland and captaining St Mary’s to a Sigerson Cup title in February. Meyler already produced a solid league run last year but there were indications in the draw against Dublin in Croke Park and wins over Roscommon and Monaghan that he can live up to the comparisons with Brian Dooher.