POTENTIAL STARS OF the future are on show on Wednesday, as four teams battle it out for the right to contest the 2017 Croke Cup hurling final.
St Kieran’s of Kilkenny are the holders, they’re going for four-in-a-row and they’ve won the All-Ireland Post-Primary Schools senior hurling A competition on a record 21 occasions.
They face Galway outfit St Brigid’s, co-managed by county senior hurling team captain David Burke, at O’Connor Park in Tullamore.
Also on Wednesday, it’s the clash of Harty Cup winners Our Lady’s Templemore, from Tipperary, and Leinster runners-up Kilkenny CBS.
That game takes place at O’Moore Park in Portlaoise, and both semi-finals throw in at 2pm.
Here, we take a look at two players from each school who will have a big say in their respective semi-final clashes.
1. Adrian Mullen (St Kieran’s)
Source: Tom Beary/INPHO
Mullen was captain of the St Kieran’s team that won the All-Ireland Post Primary Schools junior hurling title in December 2015, before adding a second Croke Cup title a few months later.
Now the team captain, Mullen is going a personal three-in-a-row in the Croke Cup, having made the transition from goalkeeper in 2015 to a prolific forward last year.
Mullen, from the famed Ballyhale Shamrocks club, scored five points, including three frees, in last year’s final win over Ardscoil Rís.
He was scorer-in-chief in the Leinster final victory over local rivals Kilkenny CBS, notching ten points in the provincial final win.
2. Conor Molloy (St Brigid’s)
Molloy was very much to the fore when St Brigid’s, Loughrea, won the Connacht title last month, seeing off Presentation College, Athenry, in the final.
And Molloy, younger brother of Galway senior panellist and 2016 U21 team captain Brian, was in free-scoring form as St Brigid’s saw off the challenge of Harty Cup runners-up St Colman’s last time out.
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Molloy, from the Kilnadeema/Leitrim club, is generally accurate from placed balls but the diminutive forward is also a threat from open play.
He’s joined on the St Brigid’s team by brother Stephen, who will captain the team from centre back.
3. Brian McGrath (Our Lady’s, Templemore)
Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO
It’s been a remarkable calendar year for Brian McGrath, the younger brother of Tipp senior stars Noel and John.
Last July, he captained the Tipp minors to Munster glory before going one better by leading the Premier County to the All-Ireland title in September.
McGrath quickly turned his attentions back to Harty Cup duty with Our Lady’s Templemore, and starred as the school won the competition for the first time since 1978.
McGrath has made a successful switch from defence to attack for Our Lady’s and, operating in the centre forward position, he’s a creator and taker of scores.
4. Jordan Molloy (Kilkenny CBS)
Jordan Molloy (left) in action for the Kilkenny minors last year.
Source: Tom Beary/INPHO
Jordan Molloy is a member of the Kilkenny minor panel again this year, and hoping to inspire his school to Croke Cup glory.
Even though Kilkenny lost to Dublin in the Leinster minor hurling championship last year, Molloy was still one of the better players on show for the Cats.
He’s operating in the same corner back position for Kilkenny CBS but Molloy is a player who likes to push forward whenever possible.
A former All-Ireland Féile na nGael winner with his club O’Loughlin Gaels, Molloy has also won county U14 and U16 medals as captain.
5. Martin Keoghan (St Kieran’s)
Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO
There’s a high turnover of players in this year’s St Kieran’s team, compared to the 2016 crop that stormed to Leinster and All-Ireland honours.
The aforementioned Adrian Mullen and Martin Keoghan are the only survivors from last year’s set-up – and Keoghan’s experience at this level has been vital for the Croke Cup holders.
Now holding down the pivotal centre back position, Keoghan appears to be a born leader, and is already starring at U21 level for his club, Tullaroan.
He was a dominant midfielder for St Kieran’s last year, and appeared as a late sub in the 2015 final victory over Thurles CBS.
6. Ronan Glennon (St Brigid’s)
Ronan Glennon is the younger brother of Galway senior star, Davy, and making a name for himself in his own right.
A member of the Galway minor hurling team last year, Glennon has also featured for the county’s U14 and U16 teams in the past.
A hard-working midfielder, with a keen eye for a score, Glennon picked off three points in the Croke Cup quarter-final victory over St Colman’s, Fermoy.
And Glennon is a player that St Brigid’s, Loughrea, need on top form if they’re to upset champions St Kieran’s in Tullamore.
7. Jerry Kelly (Our Lady’s, Templemore)
Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO
If there was ever a time to deliver a complete final performance, Our Lady’s Templemore picked their moment by producing an outstanding display to overwhelm St Colman’s in the Harty Cup decider.
Even though it was very much a team effort, a number of individuals shone like beacons and Jerry Kelly was one of them.
The Borris-Ileigh player scored five points from play and his ability under the high ball is also a strong feature of his game.
Kelly was a member of the Tipperary minor hurling panel that won the Munster and All-Ireland titles last year, and he was named on the matchday 24 for September’s comfortable victory against Limerick.
8. Sean Bolger (Kilkenny CBS)
Source: James Crombie/INPHO
Sean Bolger is already mixing with the big boys, and he came off the bench to score a point when O’Loughin Gaels beat Ballyhale Shamrocks in the 2016 Kilkenny senior hurling decider.
Kilkenny CBS have plenty of firepower in attack and Bolger scored two points in the Leinster final loss to St Kieran’s, having landed 0-11 in the corresponding fixture last year.
The CBS bounced back from that latest defeat by seeing off Connacht runners-up Presentation College Athenry in the recent Croke Cup quarter-final – with Bolger shooting 2-2 from play.
Unfortunately from a Kilkenny perspective, Bolger is overage for the county minors this year, but could make the step-up to the U21 ranks.
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