'Irish Experiment' pioneer Wight passes away in Australia

Sean Wight, the former Kerry minor footballer and one of the first recruits for the so-called 'Irish Experiment' in Australian Rules, has died following a short illness.

Sean Wight, the former Kerry minor footballer and one of the first recruits for the so-called 'Irish Experiment' in Australian Rules, has died following a short illness.

Wight was born in Glasgow, Scotland but moved with his family to Kerry and took a liking to Gaelic football.

He played for the Kerry minors in their 1982 All-Ireland final defeat to Dublin, and was a member of the Listowel Emmets club.

Eager to travel, he answered a newspaper advertisement, given to him by his aunt, which was looking for players to attend a trial organised to find potential recruits for the VFL, the Victorian Football League who has evolved into today's Australian Football League.

His high-fielding skills and talents as a footballer helped him impress the talent scouts - Melbourne's Ron Barassi and Barry Richardson - and he accepted a scholarship along with Roscommon's Paul Earley.

Wight played a number of underage and reserve games before making his senior debut for the Demons in 1985. Two years later he was an All-Australian and he represented Victoria in 1988.

In all, he made 150 senior appearances and scored 63 goals for Melbourne between 1985 and 1995. One of his highlights was featuring in the 1988 grand final against Hawthorn.

A nuggety, fiercely-committed defender and renowned for his trademark moustache, Wight played alongside Jim Stynes, another recruit from Ireland, over a number of VFL and AFL seasons.

Wight, who played mostly at full-back, is remembered fondly by Melbourne - he is a member of the club's Hall of Fame and was named as one of their 150 heroes of the club during their 150-year celebrations.

Despite a clean-living lifestyle, he was diagnosed with lung cancer in February. Speaking to the Herald Sun in May, he said: "I remember thinking: 'Wow, here I am, 46, I've never smoked, never really drunk, and I've got lung cancer'.

"(Doctor) Bernie Crimmins rang me and said: 'You better come in and see me'. I went in and he's chucked up the X-ray and he's gone: 'It's not normal'.

"It was your classic lump about that big (the size of an orange) sitting there (right lung). It had spread right out that way (to the right). It was as clear as day.

"Then he told me I had lung cancer. He said: 'Right, we need to find the best people to get you to go and see and start the process'. I've just fallen off a cliff."

Wight underwent courses of radiation treatment and chemotherapy. However, his condition worsened and he sadly passed away earlier today in Melbourne's Freemasons Hospital, surrounded by family and friends.

Leading the tributes was Stynes, the current President of Melbourne Demons and a man who is fighting his own brave battle with cancer.

"It's very sad. We've just lost a great man and a great team-mate and a brother, son and a good friend," he told the club's website.

"He is probably the most competitive and probably the greatest athlete that I played football with. He could have been anything, but he chose football.

"He could have been a professional soccer player or he could have been a rugby player. There are so many sports that he was just an all-round athlete at.

"He could just do everything. Unfortunately, he had a body, and he did a knee when he was 19. In those days, when you did a knee, it was tough to get back from and most players never played again.

"But he just kept putting himself out there and he accomplished great things."

AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou said: "On behalf of the AFL, I want to pass on my condolences to Sean's family and all his friends and former team-mates at Melbourne Football Club during this difficult time.

"Even though he was Scottish-born, Sean was part of the 'Irish experiment' initiated by Ron Barassi and Barry Richardson who brought a number of Gaelic footballers out from Ireland in the 1980s. He quickly adapted to our game with his tremendous athleticism and leap making him a favourite among Melbourne fans.

"As someone who played against him, Sean was a very formidable opponent. In recent times, the whole football community has been touched by the tremendous courage he showed as he battled cancer."

Melbourne CEO Cameron Schwab added: "This is a very sad time for Sean's family and Melbourne Football Club. To lose a great champion, a true pioneer, and a man of great courage at such a young age is both tragic and a great shock.

"Our love and support go to his mother Peggy and sisters Fiona and Gwen. Theirs is the saddest loss."

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