In the tiny bit of downtime between the Roscommon game last weekend and ahead of getting revved up in the lead-in to the Dubs match on Saturday night, I’ve been doing a bit of research to satisfy my curiosity on a point of interest. Having done so, I can now share it with the wider world.
What I wanted to look at was how quickly the Class of 2006 stepped up to the senior ranks following their victorious U21 All-Ireland campaign and to see how the Class of 2016 are faring out in comparison. It’s very early days yet in relation to the latter group, I know, but my sense – before sitting down to plough through the data – was that this is happening quite rapidly. Having done the research, I can confirm that this is correct.
The first table below shows when the players who featured in the 2006 U21 All-Ireland winning campaign made their appearance for the first time at senior level in the FBD, League and championship.
The next table provides the same information (to date) for the 2016 cohort:
A few points jump out immediately from the above tables.
The first is that the bounty we reaped at senior level from the famed 2006 U21 team was, indeed, a rich one. A total of fourteen players came through to senior from that group and every single one of them played League and championship for us (and FBD, even if it did take Tom Cunniffe until 2013 to make a very belated bow there).
A second, slightly downbeat, point to note in relation to the 2006 group is that the majority of them have already come and gone at senior level. Only six of the fourteen – Ger Cafferkey, Keith Higgins, Chris Barrett, Colm Boyle, Barry Moran and Seamus O’Shea – are still in the frame at senior level now. Of those, only two – Keith and Colm – have played any part for us this year.
A third point to note is that it took a while for all of them to filter through into the senior ranks. Michael Conroy – who made his senior debut at the age of nineteen off the bench on All-Ireland final day in 2004, scoring 1-1 from play that day against Kerry – was the first to appear, with Keith Higgins and Barry Moran both breaking into the senior squad in 2005, all three of them moving up before the U21 title was won in 2006. At the other end of the scale, Chris Barrett, Seamus O’Shea and Enda Varley didn’t see senior championship action for the first time until as late as 2010.
Turning to the Class of 2016, what’s striking is that so many of them are already being progressed through to senior level. As the table above confirms, a total of thirteen of the 2016 All-Ireland winning team – just one fewer than the number who broke through to senior from the 2006 group – have already had a gallop out at senior level.
Sure, for most of them they’ve only seen active service in the FBD. However, eight of them have had some game time already in the League while three of them – Stephen Coen, Conor Loftus and Diarmuid O’Connor – have championship experience, at the highest level to boot, under their belts.
When you consider how long it took for all of the 2006 group to break through into senior and factor in that others from 2016, such as Seamus Cunniffe, Ciaran Harrison, Shairoze Akram and Matthew Ruane, are likely to be knocking on the door as well before too awful long, it could well be that the harvest we’ll reap from last year’s U21 All-Ireland team could in time surpass the bumper crop we enjoyed from the 2006 team. What’s already beyond dispute is that the Class of 2016 are already coming through to senior level in numbers and they’re making their presence felt there as well.
(Note: Post updated to include Morgan Lyons’ appearance at senior level. Table updated too.)