10 young Gaelic Footballers to watch in 2019
By John Harrington
The 2018 Gaelic Football season was notable for the number of new faces who established themselves as up and coming stars.
2018 Young Footballer of the Year, David Clifford, was the obvious stand-out, but others like Dublin duo Brian Howard and Eoin Murchan, Monaghan’s Niall Kearns, Tyrone’s Michael McKernan, and Kerry’s Gavin White also caught the eye.
So, what up and coming young footballers are likely to make a similar impact this year?
Here are ten of the most promising players coming to a county ground near you in 2019.
Darragh Canavan (Tyrone)
A son of all-time great and Tyrone legend Peter Canavan, Darragh Canavan certainly has big boots to fill but looks more than capable of making his own mark on the game.
Just like his father, he’s a prodigiously talented attacker, and first burst onto the scene when he scored a brilliant goal that helped Tyrone to victory over Roscommon in the 2017 All-Ireland U17 Football Final.
The 18-year-old has yet to start a championship match for his club Errigal Ciaran, but starred in the latter stages of their 2018 League campaign that culminated with him scoring five points to help defeat Omagh in the County Final.
He made his Tyrone senior debut on December 20 in their opening Bank of Ireland Dr. McKenna Cup match of the season and promptly scored a classy point after coming on as a sub.
He’s still very young and doesn’t have the physical power of a someone like David Clifford, but Canavan certainly has the skill, speed, and finishing ability to make a mark for Tyrone in his debut season.
Jimmy Hyland (Kildare)
A cruciate ligament rupture at the age of 18 slowed his progress, but Hyland should be ready to establish himself as a key man in the Kildare attack in 2019.
He was the star of their All-Ireland winning U-20 team in 2018, a season that culminated with him winning the 2018 EirGrid U-20 Footballer of the Year.
He was a shoo-in for that award having scored 0-8 against Dublin in the Leinster Final, 1-8 against Kerry in the All-Ireland semi-final, and 0-10 against Mayo in the All-Ireland Final.
Eight of those 10 points in the All-Ireland Final were from play as the Ballyteague man produced an absolutely sensational performance on the biggest day of all.
Daniel Flynn’s absence is a big blow for Kildare in 2019, but if Hyland can deliver on his massive potential in the senior grade then the Kildare attack will have a very dangerous new weapon.
Ryan O’Donoghue (Mayo)
The Belmullet man is currently sidelined after undergoing surgery on an ankle-injury but should be back in time for the latter stages of the Allianz Football League.
Captain of his club senior team as well as the Mayo U-20 side that reached the 2018 All-Ireland Final, he’s an all-action attacker who carries the ball through the lines at great pace and is an accurate finisher.
Shortlisted for the 2018 EirGrid U-20 Footballer of the Year, the former Ireland schoolboys soccer international has the quality as well as character to make an impact in the senior grade in 2019.
David Shaw (Kerry)
He’s currently focusing on Dr. Crokes’ bid to win another AIB All-Ireland club title, but don’t be surprised if David Shaw is called into the Kerry senior panel once the club campaign is concluded.
He starred alongside David Clifford and Sean O’Shea on the 2016 Kerry All-Ireland minor winning and has been in great scoring form this season for Dr. Crokes.
So much so, that he’s currently keeping club and county legend, Colm Cooper, out of the starting XV. A classy inside forward, even if Shaw doesn’t make the grade this year at senior inter-county level you feel it’s only a matter of time.
David Garland (Monaghan)
Garland caught the eye whenever he played for Monaghan in his debut season of 2018, and now looks poised to become a more regular presence in their starting XV in 2019.
He was the star of DCU’s All-Ireland Freshers winning team last year and his development should be accelerated this year by playing Sigerson Cup football.
A speedy corner-forward who is very accurate both from play and free-kicks, the Donaghmoyne man has the quality to really make his mark in 2019.
Paddy Small (Dublin)
The Ballymun Kickhams man is a brother of Dublin footballer John Small but has the talent to make his own name in the coming years.
He made his senior League and Championship debuts for Dublin in 2018 so has banked the sort of experience that should allow him to hit the ground running in 2019.
Most comfortable as an inside forward, he’s physically powerful, very quick across the ground, and an accurate finisher.
With Dublin attackers like Bernard Brogan, Kevin McManamon, Paddy Andrews, and Eoghan O’Gara now in their thirties, 20-year-old Small has the talent to bump his way up the pecking order in 2019.
Daire Ó Baoill (Donegal)
Daire Ó Baoill has starred for his club Gaoth Dobhair during their Donegal and Ulster championship winning campaigns and looks ready to really make his mark as an inter-county footballer.
He’s already had a good taste of action at that level, making five appearances as a substitute for Donegal in 2018.
A former Ireland U-18s soccer captain, Ó Baoill has a tremendous engine that sees him get through a huge amount of work in the middle of the field.
And as he showed when scoring three goals against Crossmaglen in the AIB Ulster Club SFC semi-final, he knows how to take a score when the opportunity arises.
Cillian McDaid (Galway)
Cillian McDaid’s decision to return home to Ireland after just a year in the AFL with Carlton is a big boost for the Galway footballers.
A dynamic half-back who scored 1-1 from play in the 2017 All-Ireland U-21 Final against Dublin, he also made his senior Championship debut that year for Kevin Walsh’s team.
As Galway seek to build on their 2018 season that saw them reach the Allianz League Final and All-Ireland semi-final, the return of McDaid certainly adds to their strength in depth.
Ciaran Byrne (Louth)
Just like McDaid, Ciaran ‘Casey’ Byrne has also returned home to Ireland after a stint with Carlton in the AFL.
He made more of an impact in Australia than McDaid did though, impressing when he played during a four-year spell that was unfortunately marred by a series of bad injuries, including a torn cruciate in 2016.
He suffered further injury woe when he broke his ankle playing for his club St. Mochta’s in the Louth Intermediate football final last October, but once he has recovered he’ll surely be called straight into the Louth team.
A powerful athlete and classy footballer who can play anywhere around the middle third of the field, he’ll be a massive addition for the Wee county.
At 24 he's obviously older and more experienced than any of the other players on this list and is already a relatively big name, but he's been away from the inter-county scene so long it'll feel like his gaelic football career is starting anew.
Ross McQuillan (Armagh)
A son of former Armagh footballer Martin, McQuillan is quickly making a name for himself as a very talented forward.
A member of the 2018 EirGrid U-20 football team of the year, he also made his senior championship debut for Armagh last and caught the eye when he scored a nice point after coming on as a sub in their dramatic Qualifier victory over Clare.
McQuillan still has another year left in the U-20 grade, and Armagh supporters will be keeping their fingers crossed that he stays on home soil after impressing in the AFL combine in Dublin last December.