Kerry defender Killian Young has revealed his deep frustration with the ongoing targeting of the county’s best young players by Australian Rules clubs.
The Kingdom have already lost 2015 All-Ireland-winning minor captain Mark O’Connor to a two-year rookie deal at AFL side Geelong, the club that signed Kerry’s Padraig Lucey in 2014.
It’s understood that AFL scouts are also monitoring David Clifford, the star of this year’s three-in-a-row minor side, while Young has suggested that as many as “five or six” Kerry talents could ultimately be recruited.
Young’s anger is replicated in other counties, with Conor Nash, the towering Meath teenager, jetting out to Hawthorn next Tuesday, along with Derry’s Conor Glass.
However, the focus on Kerry’s best young players is inevitably stronger, given that they’ve dominated the minor grade in recent seasons, something that AFL international talent coordinator Tadhg Kennelly is only too aware of.
“What worries me in one sense is that we’re after winning a three-in-a-row in the minors, developing top-quality players who are coming through, and the fear I have is that they [AFL clubs] are all looking at our players,” Young told Radio Kerry’s Terrace Talk.
“What’s the point of us developing top-class players in this county if they’re all going to go away to Australia on professional contracts?
“So, we really have to find a way to protect our players for Kerry’s future, for us to be winning All-Irelands, [otherwise] there’s no point us bringing through players in these top-class programmes at youth level. It’s a frustration for me.
“It’s just one that we’d be looking to keep Tadhg Kennelly away from us at the moment, because he seems to be poaching our players and, for our future in County Kerry, we need to hold onto them.”
O’Connor was the 50th Irish player to sign professional terms with an AFL club and the big fear in Kerry is that Clifford will follow. The six-foot-two-inch Fossa youngster and Hogan Cup medal winner was the stand-out performer at minor level this year and hit 2-27 in Kerry’s successful championship campaign.
“I seen bits and pieces on him and I’ve heard a lot as well, but outside of David there’s a lot of quality in there,” continued Young. “We have all that quality within Kerry which we’re lucky enough to have and there is a fear that our players are going to be going away on professional contracts and that at the moment you’re talking about maybe five or six, and that’s colossal, that’s our best players that we’ve produced in the county over the last 10 years of development and we have to find a method of keeping these players at home.
“Look, you can’t blame a fella for going for a professional contract, I can’t tell them not to do it or anything like that, or that they’re making the wrong decision, it’s a great opportunity, of course, but we have to find a way to keep our players at home and to develop them into the senior team.”
Young himself, who turns 30 in January, is looking forward to an 11th season of senior activity and chasing a fifth All-Ireland medal.
He insisted Eamonn Fitzmaurice is the right man to lead them to that goal and pointed to the pressure that Kerry put on back-to-back champions Dublin at stages of this year’s All-Ireland semi-final.
“We asked a lot of questions of them on the day and they had to defend a lot more and they were looking around and they looked a bit lost at times,” he said. “To be fair to that team, they found their way and came back at us and I suppose in one sense they had nothing to lose and it just didn’t work out for us in the last 10 [minutes], but look, we’re very happy within ourselves. We know there’s a few bits we need to get right and we’re not far behind.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved