The ‘Cadbury Hero of the Future’ award is part of Cadbury’s continued sponsorship of the under 21 football championship, highlighting the achievements of individuals for outstanding teamwork, passion and performance on the field. Former winners include Keith Higgins – Mayo (2006), Fintan Goold – Cork (2007) Killian Young – Kerry (2008), Colm O’Neill – Cork (2009) and Rory O’Carroll – Dublin (2010). The question is – who will it be this year?
Looking at the past five winners and how they have progressed onto the senior stage, the award has proven to be a great predictor of future senior stars. Killian Young, Colm O’Neill and Fintan Gould have all gone on to claim All-Ireland Senior medals with Kerry and Cork respectively. Keith Higgins continues to be a constant name in the Mayo defence while Rory O’Carroll was one of the star performers for Dublin in last year’s campaign.
A ‘Hero of the Match’ Award is presented to 15 players, selected based on their performance, from the provincial semi-finals stage through to the All-Ireland final. The winners of the ‘Cadbury Hero of the Match’ awarded during the Championship are shortlisted for the overall ‘Hero of the Future’ award. Due to Galway ace Mark Hehir receiving two awards, there are 14 players on the shortlist this year.
This year’s list of nominees is made of players from eight different counties (Kerry, Cork, Roscommon, Galway, Cavan, Monaghan, Westmeath and Wexford) with All-Ireland finalists Galway and Cavan both having the highest number of nominees with 3 (Mark Hehir, Tomas Fahy and Tomas Flynn from Galway and Gearoid McKiernan, Jack Brady and Barry Reilly from Cavan).
The Cadbury U21 championship continues to be difficult to predict and with early casualties such as Dublin, Mayo, Down and Armagh, it proved to be yet another intriguing championship.
The championship kicked off in Leinster and after a string of surprising results, Carlow faced Wexford and Longford faced Westmeath in the last four. In the first semi final, Sean Gaul received the Hero of the Match award after an excellent performance from full back. Very comfortable on the ball and well able to marshal the Carlow attack, Sean was always looking to drive his team forward and inspired Wexford to the Leinster final. In the second semi final, Westmeath were looking to make it to back to back Leinster finals, but came up against a very strong Longford side. Although on the wrong end of the result, Conor Lynam was the stand out player on the pitch and showed great skill from placed balls as he kept Westmeath in the tie with 6 points.
Wexford were in the Leinster final for the first time since 2008 and looking to claim their first title. Michael O’Regan won the Hero of the Match award after a brilliant performance from midfield scoring 2 points including one fantastic free towards the end of the game which settled Wexford and sent them on the way to claiming their first ever U21 Leinster title.
In Munster, Cork came up against Tipperary, while Kerry came up against Limerick. Mark Collins received the Hero of the match award in the Munster semi final for an outstanding display which included 8 points (5 from frees) against the reigning Munster champions Tipperary. Paul Geaney received the Hero of the Match award in a Munster semi final for the second year running. Kerry travelled to Limerick and after a close first half, Kerry ran out comfortable winners in the end thanks to 2-03 from Paul, 2-02 coming from play.
Traditional Munster powers, Kerry and Cork played in the U21 Munster final for the first time since 2004. It promised much but proved to be a very one sided affair with Barry O’Driscoll receiving the Hero of the Match award for his performance. Cork beat arch rivals Kerry by an unbelievable 22 points to claim the Munster crown. Barry kicked from 1-06 full-forward with 1-04 coming from play.
Mayo were a surprise casualty in Connacht having been beaten by Roscommon in the opening round. Roscommon progressed to play Leitrim and were inspired by corner forward, Niall Kilroy who scored 4 points to ensure Roscommon returned to the Connacht final which they were looking to retain. Only just back from injury Niall kicked 3 points from play. In a repeat of the 2010 Connacht semi final, Galway faced Sligo but after an early scoring spree the result was never going to be repeated. Mark Hehir, playing at centre forward received the Hero of the Match award for his part in the demolition of Sligo kicking 8 points.
Galway were looking to claim their first Connacht title since 2005. Tomas Fahy, had a great game from wing back and managed to get on the score sheet with a very well taken point. Always looking to get up to pitch, Tomas also proved a resolute defender and Galway limited Roscommon to just 0-04 points in the game.
Cavan claimed victory against the holders Donegal in the Ulster Semi Final. Barry Reilly received the Hero of the Match for his part in the great performance. Barry kicked 5 points from the wing forward positions and proved to be a real live wire in open play and deadly from placed balls, claiming 4 points from frees. Tyrone and Down served up three thrilling contests in the Ulster quarter final and eventually Tyrone emerged to face Monaghan in the semi final. Monaghan came up against a tried and tested Tyrone side and had a blistering start to the game and lead by 1-02 to no score, however Tyrone came back strong to claim victory. Christopher McGuinness was the main attacking threat for Monaghan and finished off the game with 1-04, 1-03 coming from play and was awarded the Hero of the Match award.
Cavan were back in the Ulster final after defeat by Donegal the previous year but proved hungrier this year and with Gearoid McKiernan in fine form, the captain of the Cavan side inspired his team to Cavan’s first U21 provincial success since 1996. He proved to be a real leader on the pitch, constantly looking to get on the ball, setting up attacks and covering in defence. His two points before the break proved vital as it gave Cavan a four point advantage and a massive platform for eventual victory.
In the first Cadbury All-Ireland semi final, Galway came into the game as underdogs as they faced a Cork team boasting Aidan Walsh and Ciarán Sheehan. Thomas Flynn had the task of marking the Young Player of the Year and came out on top. He dominated the middle, scored a point but also tackled well and worked very hard as Galway sent the favourites packing. In the second Cadbury All Ireland semi final, Cavan had just a three day turn around before they had to face Leinster champions Wexford. Jack Brady showed no signs of fatigue at corner forward as he scored 3 points, 2 from play and tormented the Wexford defence with his constant movement and hard work rate.
The Cadbury U21 final was confirmed to take place in Croke Park ahead of the Allianz National Hurling League Division 1 clash. Cavan fans travelled in their thousands in hope of a very first All-Ireland at under 21 level, but despite a great start, Cavan couldn’t withstand the Galway onslaught. Mark Hehir, who previously claimed the Hero of match award in the Connacht semi final, also claimed the Cadbury Hero of the Match award in the Cadbury All-Ireland final against Cavan. He kicked 7 points on the day but his ability to pick up breaks and his distribution were both top class. His overall play deserved the Hero of the Match award.
The winners of the ‘Cadbury Hero of the Match’ awarded during the Championship are now shortlisted on the Cadbury GAA website and you – as a member of the public are invited to vote online for your choice of ‘Cadbury Hero of the Future’.
Kildare senior footballer Dermot Earley, Kerry legend Darragh O’Sé, former Dublin Manger Paul Caffrey and TG4’s Michael O Domhnaill adjudicate the competition and determine who the overall winner will be, taking the public vote into consideration.
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