All-Ireland winners and All-Stars – 8 players to watch at this weekend’s O’Connor Cup

THERE WILL BE plenty of inter-county talent on show at the 2022 Yoplait Ladies HEC Championships this weekend.

There’s four more pieces of silverware up for grabs at DCU St Clare’s, where the O’Connor Cup is the showpiece, top-level competition.

After a two-year competition absence amidst the pandemic, the semi-final line-up will see hosts DCU Dóchas Éireann up against UCC on Friday afternoon, followed by the second semi-final between reigning champions from 2019, UL, and NUI Galway. The final is slated in for Saturday afternoon at 4pm [live on Spórt TG4 YouTube].

Here’s a closer look at some Meath, Dublin, Cork, Galway and Kerry stars worth keeping an eye on, with All-Ireland winners and All-Stars aplenty among them.

DCU Dóchas Éireann

Emma Duggan (Meath)

Duggan celebrating Meath’s historic All-Ireland win last September.

Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Unquestionably one of the best forwards in the country, Duggan is the lynchpin of a potent DCU attack. Still only 19 and a first year college student, the Dunboyne ace has lit up the inter-county scene over the past few seasons.

Duggan finished 2021 as an All-Ireland champion and All-Star with Meath, while also adding Division 2 league and county and provincial club honours. A huge scoring threat and deadly accurate from placed ball, the towering attacker plays with the maturity of an established inter-county stalwart despite her relatively young age. 

Jennifer Dunne (Dublin)

Dunne was on hand as Yoplait Ireland were announced as new sponsors of LGFA’s third-level competitions.

Source: SPORTSFILE.

Duggan and Dunne are but two of a star-studded DCU outfit. Dublin All-Star Dunne is joined by inter-county team-mates Carla Rowe, Niamh Hetherton and Abby Shiels, while Offaly dual star Kate Kenny, Meath All-Ireland winner Orlagh Lally and Anna Rose Kennedy of Tipperary are among other key players for the Glasnevin side. 2021 league winners, the recent O’Connor Cup champions are firm favourites heading in.

Dunne has established herself as one of the country’s top midfielders over the past few seasons, her athleticism and physicality marking her out from the crowd. The Cuala powerhouse and three-time All-Ireland winner has been ever-present for the Sky Blues since making her debut in 2017, and often pops up with a score or two.

UCC

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Sadhbh O’Leary (Cork)

O’Leary shooting against Tipperary last year.

Source: Ken Sutton/INPHO

O’Leary has been drafted into the Cork attack many a time in the past few years, but 2021 was a real breakthrough season for the youngster. A standout performer for the Rebels in the league and scorer of 2-4 in championship fare, she finished up an All-Star nominee, in the running for the right corner forward position alongside Vikki Wall and Aimee Mackin.

Forming a deadly alliance with Orla Finn for Kinsale at club level, O’Leary is a real rising star on the national stage and that has continued at UCC, where she combines with inter-county team-mate Katie Quirke in the skull and crossbones’ forward line.

Emma Cleary (Cork)

Cleary on the ball for Cork last year.

Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

One of a strong Éire Óg contingent in the UCC squad, captain Cleary is still only 21 and in her third season on the Cork panel. She joins O’Leary and Quirke in the forward line, having excelled for the Rebels through the underage ranks before the posts.

Opportunities have been few and far between at inter-county level as Shane Ronayne’s side remain one of the most competitive squads in the county, though she’s impressing under the watchful eye of her father, legendary Cork footballer John, on the colleges’ scene. As UCC eye their first O’Connor Cup crown since 2012, Aghada defender Sarah Leahy and Waterford forward Kelly Ann Hogan are among their other key players.

UL

Erika O’Shea (Cork)

O’Shea at the announcement of Yoplait Ireland as new sponsors of LGFA’s third-level competitions.

Source: SPORTSFILE.

O’Shea followed up her breakout inter-county season of 2020 with an All-Star winning one in 2021. A vital cog in the Cork machine, the 19-year-old defender has been consistently excellent for the Rebels since lighting up Croke Park in the controversial 2020 All-Ireland semi-final win over Galway.

The Macroom star provides piercing runs from half-back, and more often than not, holds some of the biggest names in the game scoreless. It’s been a colourful path for O’Shea, who has faced many setbacks in her career so far and momentarily quit football. She’s also a talented basketball player, and lined out for Glanmire through the off-season.

Hannah O’Donoghue (Kerry)

O’Donoghue lining out for Kerry in 2019.

Source: Lorraine O’Sullivan/INPHO

O’Donoghue enjoyed a memorable senior inter-county debut aged just 16 in 2017, scoring 1-4 in a stunning performance as Kerry reached the All-Ireland semi-final. There and then, she made a real name for herself on the national stage, having previously impressed through the Kingdom’s underage ranks, winning a host of All-Ireland medals. 

An underage soccer international with the Republic of Ireland and former Cork City star, the ever-lively and hugely-talented O’Donoghue has a real eye for goal. That will prove vital if UL are to retain their title. Her Kerry counterparts Fiadhna Tangney and Julie O’Sullivan and Kilkerrin-Clonberne and Galway pair Ailish Morrissey and Lynsey Noone are a couple more UL players to look out for. 

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NUIG

Melissa Duggan (Cork)

Duggan facing Cork in 2021.

Source: Ken Sutton/INPHO

Another of Cork’s top and most consistent players over the past few seasons, two-time All-Star Duggan has been inspirational for NUI Galway since making the move out west to continue her studies.

Like O’Shea, the defender is slight in stature, though teak-tough and a prolific attacking threat. Duggan is the definition of a workhorse, and loves getting up the field and in on the act in the forward line en route to dispatching goals.

Expect big impact, as always, from the Doheny’s ace this weekend.

'We were starstruck when she arrived down at training!' – NUIG captain Niamh Daly on the impact of Cork TG4 All Star Melissa Duggan.

See Daly score her team's second goal in tonight's Yoplait O'Connor Cup win, from our Live Stream coverage.. @GalwayLgfa @CorkLGFA @LadiesHEC pic.twitter.com/1JisY2v99r

— Jerome Quinn (@JeromeQuinn) March 2, 2022

Hannah Noone (Galway) 

Hannah Noone (right) in action in the All-Ireland club final.

Source: Lorraine O’Sullivan/INPHO

A recent club All-Ireland winner with Kilkerrin-Clonberne, Hannah is one of two Noone sisters lighting it up with NUIG. Her younger sibling, Eva, lines out alongside her while Lynsey is in the UL set-up. All three starred in January’s club decider win over back-to-back champions Mourneabbey.

Hannah was the Galway minor captain as recently as 2020 and also All-Ireland-winning U16 skipper with the Tribe in 2018, so her leadership skills and talent have been evident from a young age. A Quick and agile half back, she’ll ask serious questions of opposition. Kate Geraghty, Chelsie Crowe (both Galway) and Aoife Geraghty (Mayo) are three more to watch for the Westerners, as they target a maiden O’Connor Cup title lift.

2022 Yoplait Ladies HEC O’Connor Cup semi-final fixtures

Friday March 11 

  • DCU Dóchas Éireann v UCC, DCU Grass Pitch 1, 1pm – Live on LGFA Facebook & YouTube  
  • Yoplait O’Connor Cup semi-final – UL v NUI Galway, DCU Grass Pitch 1, 3pm – Live on LGFA Facebook & YouTube.

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