Contenders in spotlight to emerge from Yorkshire’s huge pool of sporting talent

Leeds diver Hannah Starling
Leeds diver Hannah Starling
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When you have a county as vast, and a sporting spectrum so wide, forecasting who might catch the eye in any given year is a rare old challenge.

For instance, who would have forecast that Matt Fitzpatrick, the fresh-faced 18-year-old from Sheffield, would take the golfing world by storm in 2013?

Leeds United's Alex Mowatt

Leeds United's Alex Mowatt

He had been on the radar ever since reaching the Yorkshire Amateur final two years earlier, but predicting he would go from that to the silver medal at the Open and the US Amateur title at Brookline, was something even he could not envisage.

So with a grand sporting heritage and a rich array of stars, it can often be like dipping your hand into Pandora’s Box and seeing what you emerge with.

Nevertheless, here at the Yorkshire Post, the sports writers and I have endeavoured to come up with a score of names for you to keep an eye on over the sporting year of 2014.

They come from individual sports and team games. Some you may have heard of, others might be new to you, but over the course of the next 12 months, hopefully they will live up to the billing we are giving them here.

Since cricket is a hot topic at the moment, laced with negativity as it is, we will start by trying to cast a positive light on some Yorkshiremen to follow next year.

Gary Ballance is an obvious choice. Already part of the England squad for this Ashes series, the Zimbabwe-born left-handed batsman is set to follow in the trailblazing footsteps of fellow Yorkshire players Tim Bresnan, Jonny Bairstow and Joe Root by playing his way into an England Test team due for a significant remodel on their return from Down Under.

Even if he does not break through, then his increased participation at county level will suit Jason Gillespie, Andrew Gale and the county membership.

Should Ballance feature regularly for England, then look to Alex Lees to fill the hole in the county’s batting order. The 20-year-old from Halifax forced his way into Yorkshire’s first-class team last year and turned heads with his performances. Expect him to kick-on in 2014.

Rugby league-wise, there are a quartet of young men on the verge of making a serious impression for their respective clubs.

Jake Connor is a young man whom Huddersfield Giants fans only got a fleeting glimpse of this season.

The tyro full-back produced a highly promising display when he was thrust into the limelight of a Super League play-off semi-final.

Anyone at the club will say they expect the 18-year-old Siddal product to go far.

Given Brett Seymour’s well-publicised personal problems – he tried driving off the Humber Bridge in a fit of alcohol-fuelled depression when at Hull FC last season – Castleford’s acquisition of the Australian scrum-half could be viewed as a major gamble.

He struggled for any semblance of consistency at the KC yet there was enough shown in his bright spells to remind everyone that he is certainly a talented half-back.

One of Super League’s most exciting young players is Stevie Ward. He had been tipped to possibly bolt into England’s World Cup squad before injury struck in April.

Ward, 20, will be desperate to return and kick-start what had been a promising opening to his career, having played in the Challenge Cup final loss and Grand Final win of 2012 before tackling Melbourne Storm in February’s World Club Challenge.

Finally in the 13-man game, England winger Tom Briscoe had an indifferent year at Hull FC but he may rediscover his best after making the move to Headingley.

He has to get in the team first, which will not be easy given prolific England colleague Ryan Hall and the highly-regarded Ben Jones-Bishop stand in his way.

But, if Briscoe gets his chance, maybe his game will go to a whole new level playing in such a skilled and experienced outfit.

Across the codes, Huddersfield-born Luther Burrell is one to watch in 2014.

The wrecking ball of a centre is on the fringes of Stuart Lancaster’s England squad and ready to burst through.

Next year would be the opportune time for Northampton’s former Leeds Carnegie flier as Lancaster begins finalising his squad for the 2015 World Cup.

In football, Sheffield United goalkeeper George Long has established himself in the England Under-21 set-up.

As well as his performances, it is his maturity that shines through, with Long acknowledging that while he is getting regular first-team appearances, even in League One, it is better than sitting on the bench in the Premier League.

Alex Mowatt is highly-thought of at Leeds United. The Doncaster-born 18-year-old has just signed a new contract at Elland Road after a string of impressive performances.

Watching his development over the coming months will be fascinating.

With the Tour de France coming to town in 2014, the Yorkshireman to follow is Leeds cyclist Josh Edmondson.

Well regarded at Team Sky, he is climbing the ranks of the high-powered British squad and despite only turning 22 next summer, he is a good bet for a ride in a grand tour either in France, Spain or Italy, in what will be only his second year as a professional. Hopefully, that will be the one that starts in his home city.

If 2013 was Fitzpatrick’s year in Yorkshire golf, the next 12 months could see a major breakthrough for Middleham’s Jodi Ewart Shadoff.

The Florida-based North Yorkshirewoman is ranked in the top 50 in the world in women’s golf and helped Europe to Solheim Cup victory. She also recorded two top-10 finishes in the majors this year.

All she needs is a win.

Jess Leyden is an 18-year-old rower from Todmorden who won Britain’s first gold medal of all time in the women’s single sculls at the world junior championships in Lithuania this year.

Look out for her to continue making ripples on the water as she takes the next step on her journey to the Rio Olympics by progressing to the senior ranks next year.

The Commonwealth Games is the major sporting event of next summer – football’s World Cup aside – and as well as the usual suspects of Jessica Ennis-Hill and the Brownlee brothers, who are expected to continue adding to their significant haul of accolades, one to watch in Glasgow could be Hannah Starling. The 18-year-old Leeds diver is emerging from that enormous pool of talent that is the City of Leeds Club as one of its brightest international prospects. An individual world and European championship finalist, she could be an outside bet for a medal at both the continental and Commonwealth Games in 2014.

The Glasgow extravaganza might also be where nationwide appreciation of the talents of Sheffield’s Nick Matthew, Pontefract’s James Willstrop and Harrogate’s Jenny Duncalf is again realised, with the Commonwealths the height of their sport, squash, and these three among the best.

Hull sprinter Annabelle Lewis – a world championship bronze medallist in the relay this summer – will also be in the hunt in Glasgow.

Up first in the race for medals next year are Great Britain’s winter Olympians, and leading the way in Sochi will be two freestyle skiers from Sheffield, James Woods and Katie Summerhayes, both of whom will be in the medal shake-up. Woods is ranked as one of the best in the world at this new sport.

Snooker’s Mitchell Travis emerged at the UK Championship in York last month, toppling Marco Fu and reaching the last 32. The 21-year-old aims to turn professional next year. How far can he go?

If I missed anyone I apologise. But that is the beauty of sport in this county. So many to choose from.