AFL dropouts face tough return

GPA national executive member Ronan Sweeney accepts players who come home from unsuccessful AFL stints face a challenging return.

The newly-appointed Kildare selector has seen how Seán Hurley has attempted to fit back into life having been de-listed by Fremantle Dockers in August. Currently injured, Hurley is in Cian O’Neill’s plans for the new season but Sweeney knows how burdensome it can be for players to reacquaint themselves with Gaelic football and life back home after embarking on professional careers.

“From the human side of it, we are doing everything we can and he has really engaged with the GPA, in terms of practical things like preparing for job interviews and things like that. It is difficult because he (Hurley) is coming back and doing nothing while coming out of a professional lifestyle. I can’t imagine how difficult that is. He is in a high percentage group who it does not work out for. It is such a different game and there is no shame in that. He tried. It is like the good club player over the years who never made the step-up but who made the effort.”

After his Dingle club-mate Mark O’Connor recently signed for Geelong Cats, Paul Geaney has suggested the GAA and GPA prioritise scholarships/grants for the best up-and-coming players as a means of keeping them in Ireland. However, Sweeney doesn’t support that idea.

“I don’t see how that would work properly. It is already in place regarding college grants. How could you pick elite? People might say that the GPA is elitist anyway because it represents inter-county players but to go and pick the best of the best, I can’t see how that would work.

“If someone applies for a grant or assistance, each case is taken individually. If a fella is there for several years and has established himself as an inter-county player, he might be looked after a little bit better simply because there are more demands on him so that is kind of that way it works without being super-elitist.”

Like Kerry, Kildare have been plundered by AFL clubs, Daniel Flynn and Paul Cribbin having come back in the last few years. “Paddy Brophy is one you regret went, just from a selfish point of view,” says Sweeney. “Obviously, from the human side of it, all the best to him. It’s a bit like fellas going to America, the club players and that – you don’t want ‘em to go but it’s such an opportunity as well that you can’t begrudge them. I don’t know whether something has to be done, whether it should be up to the player or if there be some sort of transfer system put in place.

“I’m not sure exactly how it would work but it’s a little bit easy at the moment for the Australians to just come up and pick our best players – and you can’t do anything about it.”

Sweeney now assists O’Neill after working with ex-Lilywhite selector Niall Carew in Waterford for three years and most recently Sligo these last two seasons.

The Moorefield man has noticed how fans have backed away from the team in recent times when they have dropped in the pecking order.

“I don’t know what happened in Kildare but the supporters in Kildare have kind of detached a little bit from the senior team. I suppose the challenge is now to get back winning big matches and starting to reconnect a little bit with the supporters because there are no better supporters than Kildare’s when things were progressing.”

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