‘Sheehan was giving me abuse that Meath men can’t kick a ball’

Conor Nash is still just 19 but stands six-foot-five and weighs in at 14 and-a-half stone, just the sort of dynamic young player Meath football has been crying out for.

‘Sheehan was giving me abuse that Meath men can’t kick a ball’

Yet within hours of helping Simonstown Gaels to back to back Meath SFC titles on Sunday, the gifted teenager was already saying his goodbyes and making plans to leave the country.

He’s due back with Aussie Rules side Hawthorn on Monday for the beginning of his second pre-season with the club.

He passed up an academy place with Leinster Rugby to join the Hawks and while playing for Meath appears to be number three on his list, supporters have remained optimistic about seeing him in green. The majority of Irish recruits return from Australia within a few seasons and if Nash was to come back at, say, 23, then Leinster’s interest may have cooled and Meath might get a decade of service from him.

The trouble with that theory is that it’s based on Nash failing in Melbourne and it’s pretty clear that the level-headed young midfielder - he plays in defence in the oval ball game - is determined to make it.

He missed three months initially with hamstring trouble but still played 10 games for the Box Hill Hawks, the Hawthorn reserves who play in the Victorian Football League, and reached the last four of that tournament.

“This is what I’m doing, it’s my job now,” said Nash. “I would say if you were kind of half-hearted and thinking, ‘what if I was at home playing with the boys?’ or ‘what if I went playing rugby, how would that have gone?’ then it’s not going to work for you, you need to be 100 per cent committed to the job.

I’m extremely happy. I fixed up a few issues with my body and my skills really went up another level because I could focus on them. They loved the way I attacked the rehab after the hamstring injury.

“I had the option of coming home for the first two weeks, maybe sulking here, but I decided to stay and just really attacked it from the start. That’s why it’s come back so good for me.”

Nash partnered ex-Meath star Shane O’Rourke in the Simonstown midfield for the second year running in Sunday’s eight-point final win over Summerhill. O’Rourke, still just 29, has had three operations on his hips and may even have to quit the game but Nash is just starting out on what could be a huge career.

Unfortunately for Simonstown, he’ll be back in Australia when they play Starlights of Wexford in the Leinster club SFC on November 12.

He and Derry talent Conor Glass live with a family in Melbourne and are both studying a Commerce course there.

The towering Navan man believes that, at this stage, he has overcome any lingering homesickness and, as it happens, isn’t the only family member working far from home.

“Dad is actually in Jordan with a job so we’re all kind of split up all over the place,” he said.

It’s helped that Nash is based in Melbourne, a hub for AFL clubs and the young Irish players out there regularly meet up.

“There’s Conor McKenna at Essendon, Darragh Joyce and Ray Connellan at St Kilda, they’ve both completed their first year, you’ve got Mark O’Connor down at Geelong, Ciaran Byrne at Carlton,” said Nash. “We meet up every so often for a feed or whatever.”

Nash revealed that sledging, which is synonymous with the Aussie Rules game, hasn’t been an issue either.

“It’s funny, somebody asked me about the sledging abuse that goes on, and you do get a small bit from the Aussie boys, ‘ah you’re Irish, you wouldn’t have a clue with the different ball’, that kind of stuff.

But the best craic is when you play against the other Irish boys. I remember Ciarán Sheehan was giving me abuse that Meath men can’t kick a ball, that they haven’t been able to since the 1980s. That sort of thing is a good bit of craic, it’s very good to have that strong network of Irish lads there.”

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