IRELAND’S most successful Australian Rules convert, Tadhg Kennelly, has warned GAA clubs and players off a controversial new recruitment drive to find new Irish talent for AFL clubs.
Ricky Nixon, Australia’s most high-profile sports agent, last week met with representatives of five AFL clubs last week — all of whom have paid AUS$30,000 (€18,200) to sign up for the Irish recruiting scheme. There are plans for “draft” camps to be set up here — in either Dublin or Belfast — that will run the rule over a shortlist of up to 30 young Gaelic footballers.
But Kennelly is preaching caution to anyone contemplating becoming involved in the system.
“Be very wary,” said the Listowel native, the only Irish man to have won an AFL Premiership title.
“He (Nixon) is coming over promising the world and painting a wonderful picture of Australia and the clubs out there.
“But the reality is different.
“The clubs involved in this scheme don’t all have the resources or infrastructure in place to develop young Irish talent.”
He offered to help any youngster considering a move down under to try their hand in the foreign code.
“I am more than happy for any player approached by this man, to contact me or my agent Michael Quinlan via the Sydney Swans website to discuss what their options are and what they should be looking for if they come to Australia.”
He continued: “The Irish kids that have come out here, that have been successful like myself, all had one-on-one coaching with their clubs.
“That was vital. The ones that didn’t have that one-on-one assistance ended up going home and went back the worse for the experience.
“My advice would be to make sure the club you are going to have the resources and infrastructure in place and have a track record of developing talent.”
And the Sydney Swans star, who went to Australia in 1999, blasted: “Not alone will the youngsters suffer but so will the GAA if this continues.”
AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou admitted earlier this year that he would not support Nixon’s plans for a recruiting network in Ireland.
He said in February: “I spoke to the GAA and in fairness they understand why some of their players come over to Australia and made it clear they can’t stop young players chasing their dream (of a professional football career given Gaelic Football is an amateur sport).”
“But we can help them (the GAA) and provide some framework to assist them so we don’t have people over there almost raiding their clubs and their counties and promising heaven and earth to these young lads when, really, out of every 50 Irish players that come over here, only one or two succeed.”
Meanwhile the Brisbane Lions have stepped up their bid to bring another Laois GAA player to the southern hemisphere with the confirmation former minor footballer Conor Meredith has been offered a trial by the club.
The major AFL club already have Stradbally native Colm Begley in their ranks but they now have made a huge effort to add Meredith to their recruiting drive.
“I’m meant to be going out there in a couple of weeks,” said Meredith, who scored three goals in last year’s Leinster minor football final
“I don’t know much about dates or anything like that at the moment though.
“I would love to go out and see what it’s like,” he concluded.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved