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Wednesday, December 19 2018 @ 10:02 pm ACDT

Irish rookie debuts for Lions

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Irishman Colm Begley has made the fastest AFL debut ever after lining up for the Brisbane Lions in their NAB Cup quarter-final in just his third game of Australian football. This comes hot on the heels of impressive form last week from Setanta O'hAilpin.

Begley picked-up 6 possessions and one mark for the Lions against a strong Melbourne Demons line-up that ran out 11-point winners at Melbourne's Telstra Dome. Coincidently, Ireland's most-successful footballing export - Brownlow Medallist Jim Stynes - was one of the Demons' better players during the late-'80s and early-'90s.

If you count a Lions intraclub scratch match and two 20-minute halves for their reserves against AFLQ club Morningside, Begley's phenomenal achievement comes after just two games of footy in his life. His ability to win selection at AFL level is an indication of his natural sporting talent and of the potential for non-Australians to adapt to the rigours of professional football.

The 19-year-old from County Laois caught the attention of Lions football manager Graeme Allen last year after a standout junior Gaelic football season. He was subsequently added to the Lions' rookie list alongside compatriot Brendan Quigley, but his junior teammate battled home sickness and returned home last month.

Begley made a commitment to stay in Brisbane for one season, to see if he had what it takes to be an AFL footballer. Reports from the club since indicate that Lions officials are 'stunned' with his progress.

"(He has debuted) about 12 months earlier than expected," said coach Leigh Matthews' upon naming Begley for the NAB Cup clash.

With Begley lining up with the triple-premiership Lions, an Irish revolution is slowly happening across the AFL. Tadhg Kennelly helped the Sydney Swans to a premiership in 2006, while the Carlton Blues have added Setanta and Aisake O'hAilpin to their list of talented young players. A number of league equalisation measures, such as the National Draft, have created an environment that recruiting outside Australia is one of the only ways AFL clubs can guarantee particular talented young players will play for them once rookie-listed.

Last week Setanta O'hAilpin played for Carlton against Geelong and was given much more game time than his solitary match of 2005. He demonstrated what is exciting a lot of Blues fans with his speed and height a worry for defenders. Setanta finished with 1 goal, several more attempts, a handful of possessions and was named in his side's best players in a promising sign of things to come. Rumours from Ireland also suggest that Brisbane are scouting another youngster, so it appears to be full steam ahead for AFL recruiting from the Emerald Isle.

An article on Begley's progress at the Lions was published in Brisbane's Courier-Mail on Friday, March 3rd.

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