Every year, the confirmed Fitzgibbon Cup panels read more and more like a who’s who of the inter-county game. Hurling is as much a student’s game these days as a young man’s one. So among our ones to watch in this year’s competition (which begins Sunday) there will be familiar names but to a man, they have points to prove.
A man who needs little introduction given the strength of his cameo appearances for Limerick in the closing stages of their successful All-Ireland run. Nevertheless, how LIT and Limerick will be delighted to get their mitts on him earlier than anticipated after Na Piarsaigh lost a first ever Munster senior club game back in November. But for the club last year, he would surely have been a starter and he can be one this year. His game-awareness and speed are just too good for him not to be.
All three of Cork’s 2018 Munster U21-winning full-back line are in the UCC panel, Griffin now in the third year of his commerce degree and it was the same trio that John Meyler began in the seniors’ last Munster League game. Griffin began both of the county’s pre-season outings at the edge of the square. As much as his college and U21 teammate Tim O’Mahony’s form will be followed closely as there might be a chance he is repurposed as a half-back by Meyler, Griffin’s progress will be of great interest given he’s been knocking on the door for a while now and the aging profile of Cork’s other full-back options.
Captain of the 2015 All-Ireland minor-winning team, it’s almost two years since the Turloughmore man made his senior debut for the Tribesmen but there are high hopes he will be a step closer to a regular starting position this season. Loftus came on in last August’s All-Ireland final as a 60th minute substitute for Johnny Coen in midfield but has been a replacement for defenders on a number of occasions. His versatility is a calling card but 2019 should be about making a spot his own and the Fitzgibbon Cup, combined with Division 1B, can be the platform.
The Inagh-Kilnamona player stepped up as an extra-time replacement to send over the equalising point for Clare to bring Galway to an All-Ireland semi-final replay. Captaining last year’s U21s and a member of the runners-up in Ireland’s Fittest Family back in 2016, the fortitude he illustrated wasn’t surprising but he’s been missing out on Championship starts to other backs.
So far this season, Donal Moloney and Gerry O’Connor have been utilising him in the full-back line. He’ll likely fill a role further out the field for his college.
Cork IT will look to the likes of the Déise pair to guide the team against DCU and WIT in the group stages. This can be a break-out year for the pair. As Derek McGrath said last year, “That courage is in this group. I see it in Darragh Lyons, Conor Prunty, DJ (Foran), Mark O’Brien, guys who next year in 1B will evolve.”
Prunty will hope to slip into the half-back line for the spring while Philip Mahony will be otherwise engaged with Ballygunner (Lyons may also avail of his brother Pauric being club-tied and other gaps in the forward line) but they have the credentials to stick it out.
Another son of the great Loughmore-Castleiney clan who impressed hugely in last year’s U21 All-Ireland final. The full-back stood out to most as the genuine article with his aggression and excellent positional sense. While DCU are expected to make a real push for the Fitzgibbon Cup title this year, the defending champions won’t be far away with linchpins such as McGrath who is expected to make his senior debut for his county in his teens like his brothers Noel and John.
A width of a post away from being a hero for his county seniors last year, the Nenagh Éire Óg starlet had rescued Tipperary a point against Cork earlier in the Munster campaign before he was thwarted as they went down to Clare.
Not turning 20 until May, he is a jinky, skilful forward who has already shown at U21 and senior that he can be a leader.
His marksmanship was one of the positives in Wexford’s middling 2018 season and but for injury he could have made even more of an impact than his 46 points.
Heading up a cohort of Wexford players on the DCU panel (nine in total), his precision and efficiency will be essential if they are to claim the university’s first Fitzgibbon Cup.
The Rower-Inistioge man, still 21 for another couple of months, has been in and out of the Kilkenny team going back to 2017.
A run of injuries haven’t helped but there were indications in 2018 that he is beginning to live up to his potential.
There were those match-winning contributions against Tipperary and Wexford and then his four-point haul against Limerick in the All-Ireland quarter-final after coming on as a second-half substitute. Leahy, with the necessary application, has everything to make himself a force for years to come.