AFL clubs continue to punt on the Irish Experiment
Thursday, October 22 2009 @ 04:22 AM CST
Contributed by: John Corrigan
Despite mixed results lately AFL sides are continuing the Irish experiment by signing up and trialling several new youngsters in advance of the November deadline for finalising lists. Recent headlines have been dominated by the news of Irish players turning their backs on the Australian game to return home but clubs are continuing to take a punt on the chance of finding a new Kennelly or Stynes.
The Sydney Swans are again to the fore with the Irish experiment by offering 19 year old Co. Derry native Chris McKaigue a place on their rookie list. He has played both Hurling and football for Derry and the Swans football operations manager Andrew Ireland sees similarities with him and their most famous Irishman, Tadhg Kennelly. “Tadhg set a high benchmark and if we’re lucky enough to get another Tadhg, we will be enraptured by it,” he said. “It’s not easy to do what Tadhg did. Not only do you have to be a good player, you have to have a strong will to be away from your family and focus on your new life. But Chris is hugely dedicated and really keen to join us.” Having show great athleticism while on trial it is thought that McKaigue is being lined up as a defender.
After initially deciding to sign a new deal another Swans recruit Brendan Murphy returned home recently after an injury plagued time with the Swans where he failed to make a senior appearance. The possibility of Kennelly returning to Australia has not been ruled out following his success in emulating his late father by winning the All Ireland Championship with Kerry last month. The final was attended by Paul Roos but neither party has committed either way as of yet.
Collingwood are another club to have mixed success with Irish recruits. Following the surprise departure of Martin Clarke, Kevin Dyas is another Pie who has decided to return home to Ireland. This is less of a loss than Clarke as he had yet to make is senior debut having just come to the end of a 2-year rookie contract.
However Collingwood are continuing to import players from Ireland with news that Donegal youngster Sean O’ Kennedy has been on trial at the club. Kidare’s Paul Cribben has also had a trial with the Pies but is unable to join the squad until 2010’s draft as he still has a year remaining at school. Collingwood’s recruitment manager Derek Hine seems keen for both teenagers to sign with the club. “Paul has a big work load at school next year and we won’t be putting any pressure on him or his family to make a decision. I hope that we made a strong enough impression on him while he was here to convince him that he would enjoy playing football at the club.” O’Kennedy has been a star for the Donegal minors for the past two years and can be signed up on a rookie contract immediately having finished school in June.
Carlton have continued to be active in the Irish market with Laois star Zac Tuohy joining the Blues on a 2 year rookie deal following a four week trial in May. However he will not be joined by Ciaran Sheehan, the Corkman also had a trial at Carlton but has declined an offer of a rookie deal. Tuohy will join Irishman Setanta O’hAlpin at Princes Park following his rollercoaster 2009 that involved a suspension, some of best ever form, injuries and being dropped for the elimination final defeat to the Brisbane Lions.
Despite Brisbane’s head coach Michael Voss cutting 10 players from their senior list Pearce Hanley has been elevated from the rookie list after playing just one match in the AFL this year in round 17 against North Melbourne. He will be joined at the Lions by Niall McKeever who has signed a 2 year international rookie contract reported to be worth a minimum AUS$ 120,000. McKeever initially came to Australia in 2008 and trialled with Richmond but was not offered a deal by the Tigers. The Armagh man is full of enthusiasm ahead of his new life in Queensland. “I am delighted. It is such a great opportunity for me to sign with and illustrious club like Brisbane. I want to challenge myself a professional sportsman. This has nothing to do with money,” he said. “I want the opportunity to train as a full-time athlete and see how far I can go.”
As well as signing Tommy Walsh this week, St Kilda have taken his team mate David Moran on a two week trial. The Kerry natives are GAA club teammates at Kerins O'Rahillys and coincidently Moran replaced Walsh as a substitute in the recent All Ireland final victory against Cork. It is also rumoured that Co. Mayo full back Ger Cafferkey has been offered a two year deal with the Saints. This news comes in contrast to the surprising decision by Colm Begley to return to Ireland having played only 1 senior game for the Saints in 2009.
Richmond have signed their first Irish recruit, James O’Reilly and he will join the squad at Punt road for preseason training in November on a 2 year deal. O’Reilly was spotted by Richmond scouts while helping his native County Down’s U-21 side defeat Mayo in the All-Ireland semi-final.
James McCarthy, who played for Dublin U-21s this year, and Cavan minor captain Barry Reilly are trying their hand at Aussie Rules also, as they go on trial with North Melbourne who currently have Conor Meridith on their rookie list.
If the past is any indicator, few of these players will go on to have long and successful AFL careers, but the odds are some will play senior football and the potential of finding a gem will mean that the Irish experiment will continue for years to come. It might never become the flood of talent that some observers have predicted but expect to hear of new Irish recruits throughout the AFL before the end of the year.