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05th May 2017

Kildare’s Paddy Brophy another on the long list of Irish players who didn’t make it at Aussie Rules

"It’s no odds to them if it doesn’t work"

Niall McIntyre

Kildare native Paddy Brophy called a halt to his AFL career recently after a three-year stint with the West Coast Eagles side in Perth.

The Celbridge native cited ‘Personal reasons, including homesickness’ as the cause for his return to Ireland. Brophy will now re-join Cian O Neill’s Kildare football panel, just like so many Irish who have ventured down under before him have gone on to do with their respective County panels.

The trend of young Irish GAA players making the trip to Australia, but not lasting the course of the journey was discussed by host Colm Parkinson and Conan Doherty during the GAA Hour Football Show on Thursday.

Irish GAA players have been getting linked with the AFL game ever since the 1980’s when pioneer Jim Stynes (Pictured below) set off on his journey from Dublin to Australia, subsequently carving out a hugely successful career for himself in the AFL. However, It was Tadhg Kennelly’s success with the Sydney Swans which really announced the AFL as a potential destination for young Irish GAA players.

“This experiment started back in the 80’s. Then it stopped and it started back up again with Tadhg Kennelly and now there’s trials every year since the 2000’s. So since then Tadhg Kennelley, Pearse Hanley, Zach Touhy and Marty Clarke are the only players that properly made it over there,” said Parkinson.

Indeed, there has been flurry of talented Irish footballers who were unable to make it in the cut-throat Aussie Rules environment, as Parkinson noticed.

“When you look at it though, Conan, the amount of players that don’t make it, I just wrote some of them down. You’ve Brendan Quigley, Colm Begley, Caolan Mooney, John Heslin, Mickey Quinn, Tommy Walsh, Ciaran Kilkenny, Chrissy Mckaigue, Brendan Murphy.” All talented footballers.

There has been a trend in recent years of talented young Irish footballers making the switch to the AFL, but then returning home after two or three years. The regularity of this trend has led many to believe that our players are only using the AFL as a means to improve themselves with the intention of returning home to play with their counties. This exodus isn’t planned according to Parkinson.

“It depends what you’re going out for, like I’m sure when he’s going out there, he’s not saying ‘I’m going out for two years for a good experience. He’s going out there thinking, ‘I could be a professional athlete for the rest of my life and make a lot of money’. “

The lads attempted to uncover the root of certain Irish GAA players lack of suitability to the rigours of the Australian game.

“They’re some of the biggest names in the GAA who have all gone out there and for a combination of different reasons (haven’t made it), obviously, Australian fella’s have got 18 years on you at the skills of the game. So you’re already playing catch-up, You’re playing catch-up physically because they’re in a professional environment. You’re on your own, you’re homesick, you’re only 18.”

Homesickness is one of the various reasons behind GAA players lack of success down under. After all, many of our GAA players who take the plunge are only young, they are immature, they are undertaking an experience that becomes a complete culture shock to them. Laois man Parkinson delved into the differences and challenges that these young players encounter.

“This is like me and you heading to college for the first time. Remember how immature you were, living on your own. You’re going to Australia which is 24 hours away from your family to get home. You’re training with a crowd of lads you don’t know. You’re living with a family that you don’t know. You know, training mightn’t be going well, who do you talk to? Australian fellas can be dickheads sometimes, like who are you going to box off and have a proper friendship with?”

Colm Begley, a former Laois team-mate of Parkinson’s had first-hand experience of the difficulties presented by the Australian dream and he revealed to Parkinson how he feels Australian rules clubs should put more emphasis on dealing with the mental challenges to be encountered by Irish players than they currently do.

“Colm Begley made a very good point to me before in saying that when you go for trials you’re tested on your physical make-up, you’re tested on your skills with the oval ball… there’s not a personality test to say ‘you’re a quiet sort of a fella, you mightn’t integrate into this squad, you might isolate yourself and be a little bit lonely out there. You need to be a certain type.”

The combination of injury, and the ridiculous strength in depth of some of these Aussie rules clubs, is another prime reason in the struggles of our Irish GAA players.

“This is the toughest thing about it out there, It’s not Laois or Offaly anymore like if you get injured, there are so many other boys they can put into the team and the sad thing is if you get injured you’re probably not going to get back into the team.”

That’s the professional world, however, and Conan Doherty drew comparisons with the huge number of young Irish soccer players who venture across the waters to England with dreams of making a living for themselves in the Premier League but come home soon later with these dreams left behind them.

“It’s probably even harder again to make it in the soccer world. NFL stats are ridiculous, how many people make it? That’s a gamble you take…we never do the stories then when the guys are back at 18…That’s the thing, your man from Derry said that there was five lads who went over to England to play football for Charlton, and four of these lads aren’t even playing anymore.”

Doherty feels that unless Aussie Rules clubs take a look at themselves and the lack of emphasis they are putting on helping our footballers acclimatise with the mental challenges the Australian journey presents, they won’t ever really take advantage of the attraction that the AFL is for our GAA players.

“That’s what a lot of sports do seem to do better, maybe than this example (Aussie Rules). They’re so tough on the young ones. It’s probably almost testing them to see how well are you going to cope with this because it’s only going to get harder when you get older. What the AFL are doing is they’re taking lads who are ready-made in the GAA game so they’re not really tested in that. They don’t have the chance to start pushing them and see how they’ll cope out in Australia, they’re just trying to get a cheap bargain for themselves… It’s no odds to them if it doesn’t work.”

Listen to the lads chat about it here from 13:58.

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