Sixteen Irish players are on board for the 2020 AFL season set to start on Thursday. Dingle’s Deividas Uosis will join the contingent next season and possibly Donegal starlet Oisín Gallen too.
For now, here are profiles of the ex-pats (three from Derry, two from both of Kerry and Meath and one each of Armagh, Cork, Dublin, Laois, Kilkenny, Mayo, Sligo, Tipperary and, Tyrone):
Callum Brown (Greater Western Sydney Giants).
Home club: Limavady.
Did his chances of a first AFL start this year the world of good with a fine campaign with the club in the North East Australian Football League. Like many of the Irish entering their second season and last in their rookie contract, it’s an important year for the former Derry minor star.
Conor Glass (Hawthorn).
Home club: Glen.
Steady improvement by the Derryman over the past three seasons and it is anticipated he will become more of a feature this season having played seven games for the Hawks last year. Scored his first AFL goal last June.
Pearse Hanley (Gold Coast Suns).
Home club: Ballaghaderreen.
Previous AFL club: Brisbane Lions
It was with the Brisbane Lions from 2008 to ‘16 that the dynamic Hanley made a name for himself but he moved up the Queensland coast to join The Suns in 2017 where he is now co-vice-captain. Injuries have set him back in recent times but he is a vital member of a struggling outfit.
His younger brother, Cian, had previously been on the Lions’ books before returning to Mayo.
Darragh Joyce (St Kilda).
Home club: The Rower/Inistioge.
Position: Key defender.
Elevated to the senior squad ahead of this season, Joyce has impressed the coaching staff with his performances for the club’s VFL team Sandringham. Lining out in the equivalent of Gaelic football’s full-back, Joyce could find himself duelling with Conor Nash in August.
Mark Keane (Collingwood).
Home club: Mitchelstown.
Position: Key defender.
Being fashioned for a role that takes time but there is little doubt that Keane has the ability to fill it. Excellent in the air, the former Cork underage star admits to only kicking an AFL ball for the first time three years ago but his athleticism is well-regarded. Turns 20 today.
James Madden (Brisbane Lions).
Home club: Ballyboden St Enda’s.
Position: Medium defender.
The fastest Irish player in Australia having broken the all-time 20-metre sprint AFL Combine Europe record in 2017, the Dubliner is expected to make his league debut this coming season.
Cian McBride (Essendon Bombers).
Home club: St Ultan’s.
Position: Key defender/forward.
The 6ft4in Meath man is being looked at as a man to claim at berth close to the goal square having like Ross McQuillan been signed by the Melbourne outfit towards the end of last year.
Conor McKenna (Essendon Bombers).
Home club: Eglish.
Returned home to Tyrone last month due to homesickness prompting speculation he would line out for his county but has returned since. McKenna had a spectacular 2019 season where he led the league for running bounces (hops) with 79.
Ross McQuillan (Essendon Bombers).
Home club: St Patrick’s, Cullyhanna.
A speed merchant, McQuillan grabbed the attention of AFL scouts when starring for Armagh in the 2018 U20 championship. Also a noted basketballer, he shouldn’t have to wait long to take to the Australian game.
Conor Nash (Hawthorn).
Home club: Simonstown Gaels.
Position: Key forward.
Still considered a raw talent but the multi AFL champions believe he will turn out to be a phenomenal talent up front. One of the few Irish players not a defender, his strength, height, and dexterity have marked him out as a future star.
Mark O’Connor (Geelong Cats).
Home club: Dingle.
Recently promoted to the leadership group in Geelong having signed a new three-year deal last season, the Dingle man has been hailed as an “astonishing” talent.
Considered a powerful runner, O’Connor’s ability under the dropping ball has been as evident in the Australian game as it was when he starred for Kerry’s minors.
Stefan Okunbur (Geelong Cats).
Home club: Na Gaeil.
Signed by the South Victoria club in August 2018, Okunbur had been making waves and was expected to make his AFL debut in the coming weeks but for rupturing Achilles ligaments in January. The Tralee man played eight games for the club’s development Victoria Football League team last season.
Colin O’Riordan (Sydney Swans).
Home club: JK Brackens.
Recruited back in 2015, it’s been a slow burn for the Templemore man but his drive and enthusiasm was last year rewarded with 12 games and a new two-year contract. One of the most tenacious Irish players in Australia, Tipperary’s former U21 captain is expected to become a long-term fixture in the club.
Anton Tohill (Collingwood).
Home club: Swatragh.
Position: Medium forward.
Signed in late 2018, Tohill can play in the ruck as well as forward and his versatility for such a big man like his father Anthony is expected to stand to him as he develops into an AFL player.
Luke Towey (Gold Coast Suns).
Home club: St Molaise Gaels.
The DCU student signed with the Suns in October and will initially play for the second team as he acquaints himself with the game in the half-backs.
Zach Tuohy (Geelong Cats).
Previous AFL club: Carlton.
Home club: Portlaoise.
Considered one of the finest half-backs in the game and now only behind Jim Stynes and Tadhg Kennelly as the greatest Irish success story in the AFL. A knee setback last year brought an end to 138 consecutive games. Left Melbourne’s Carlton ahead of the 2017 season for Geelong after receiving an “almost insulting” contract extension. Like Tuohy, an example to the rest.