Shane Bennett (Waterford)
We’ve heard all about Bennett before but he showed some great maturity from a couple of aspects in yesterday’s win over Kilkenny.
Where Maurice Shanahan and Austin Gleeson were misfiring from placed balls, Bennett showed them the way with a couple of second half frees.
Paul Murphy is rightly regarded as one of if not the best corner back in the business but against Bennett he had a difficult afternoon. Shanahan won’t feel so alone in the full-forward line if Bennett maintains his form.
Tomás Hamill (Tipperary)
The full-back position is one that Michael Ryan will have pondered on, with plenty of options available.
James Barry has filled the slot for a couple of years while Michael Breen and, if required, Pádraic Maher can also play there.
But Tomás Hamill, an All-Ireland minor medallist in 2012 and still just 21, staked a claim with a solid display on the edge of the square against Dublin on Saturday night.
Diarmaid Byrnes (Limerick)
The Patrickswell clubman captained Limerick to the All-Ireland U21 title in September and he crowned his league debut with a commanding display from centre-back against Wexford.
He landed 0-4, three of those frees, and drove another couple wide but his ability to deliver the ball long will be an asset.
Got a taste of the standard required at this level too when the impressive Andrew Shore switched from No.6 to centre-forward in the second-half.
Conor Cleary (Clare)
The Miltown-Malbay half-back was a busy figure in his league debut yesterday. Cleary was solid under the high ball and made a number of important interventions to break up Offaly attacks. Didn’t lack confidence and neither was he afraid to bark instructions at one or two of the more experienced players operating further up the right wing.
Rounded out his 70-minute involvement with a fine point from distance. We’ll be seeing plenty more of last year’s Clare U21 captain before the spring is out.
Conor Whelan (Galway)
Yesterday Whelan built on the reputation he forged in last year’s championship, when he caught the eye in Galway’s run to the All-Ireland final. His unusual running style was on show but his appetite for close combat was also evident, as in the second half when he chased down Cork defender Stephen McDonnell and won a good sideline cut. He chipped in with three points and showed good ball-winning ability when necessary, beating two Cork backs to one crossfield ball early in the second half.
Whelan’s ability to lay off the clever handpass, which all saw in the championship last year, was also in evidence yesterday. If, as looks likely, he has bulked up a little, then Galway can expect more progress from the Kinvara man this season.
Jack Goulding (Kerry)
Ballyduff’s Jack Goulding was a member of Jack O’Connor’s All-Ireland minor football winning Kerry panel last year but his performance against Laois yesterday suggested there could be a future for him with the county hurlers.
It was his misfortune to be marked by Laois’ one experienced defender in Cahir Healy but the small-in-stature youngster escaped the Portlaoise man’s clutches long enough to claim three impressive points and crack a wonderful shot off the crossbar.
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