Former North Melbourne and St Kilda midfielder Nick Dal Santo has pinpointed kicking ability alongside AFL-ready athleticism and conditioning for making GAA players increasingly attractive to Aussie Rules clubs, with many of the native products not possessing the same ball skills.
His comments come as a number of clubs are said to be interested in Tyrone All-Star Cathal McShane, with Adelaide leading the way. McShane will train with the Crows in the coming weeks in what is seen as a trial for both the club and player.
McShane’s inter-county manager, Mickey Harte, has criticised the continuing relationship between the GAA and AFL at an official level in the form of the International Rules, and the role of "ex-GAA people in Ireland" as recruiters.
The recruitment of Irish players to the AFL becomes a headline at this time of year despite the handful that try it out. More players have opted out of inter-county fare of their own volition for 2020 than the 17 Irish that are on AFL lists.
That figure may well increase in the coming years, though, according to Dal Santa, who said on SEN radio that unlike Australia-based junior footballers, Irishmen could be taught the basics of football while maintaining an AFL-ready physique.
“The beauty of some of these Irish guys is they’re highly talented and able to understand instructions because they’re mature,” said Dal Santo.
“I think one of the mistakes we’ve made as developers in Australia is [maintaining what] we always did as kids – we find the technique we’ve always practised in the backyard and you get to the age of 17 with the possibility of being drafted yet those skills haven’t been modified to a certain degree.
“I still think there’s far too many players that get drafted that are great athletes but don’t execute the fundamentals of football the way they should be able to.
“It’s just my gripe – our game more than ever demands execution of skills. We speak about the pressure of the opinion, the team defence, the pace and the athleticism of the game, but the skills haven’t caught up to it and haven’t continued to be what they always were.”
Dal Santo added that Irish players, who had not developed bad habits and were a “blank canvas”, were an increasing attraction.
When you get someone from an Irish background, the kicking of the round ball is actually harder technique-wise to hit the right part of the ball.
“If you get someone who’s Irish and can tick off those fundamentals, you’ve got a blank canvas to work with.
“I’ve played with multiple Irishmen over the years and I’ve met some kids who are aspiring to play AFL through development programs in Ireland – they’re enthusiastic and they’ve got a great body shape.
“Whether you’re Irish or Australian, it still goes back to the fundamentals of football: kicking the football and clean hands.”