Paddy Brophy was standing on the fine white sand of City Beach in Perth, the impossibly blue waters of the Indian Ocean stretching beyond the horizon before him, when he arrived at the decision to come home.
He’d given it his best shot. The West Coast Eagles had never taken part in the ‘Irish Experiment’ before signing him up but the Kildare man impressed with East Perth in the West Australian Football League for nigh on three seasons before calling it quits.
How close did he come to making it? Pretty close.
Irish players are listed as Category B Rookies in the AFL. To get a shot at the big time they basically need someone much higher up the ladder to come a cropper with injury and for a coach to take a punt on them.
That calls for a little bit of luck and a lot of patience.
Brophy finished third in the ‘Best and Fairest’ list for the seconds in his second season. He thought he was there or thereabouts but when he was overlooked for a roster spot that opened up this term he knew it was over.
"I had been going through a phase for three or four months deciding what to do,” he explained at an eir Sport launch this week. “I was trying to get back to enjoying football, enjoying what I was doing. I was hanging on there for a good while.
“I was getting to a stage where I was playing decent football. I didn't see the spot opening up for the first team, didn't get the opportunity. From there I thought to myself, ‘I don’t see myself breaking in this year. I don’t really want to hold on for much longer’.”
Listen to him talk about his time in Australia and the picture emerges of a young guy who was conflicted about the whole ride from the day he bought the ticket. Homesickness was a factor, Gaelic football and the Lilywhites constant whispers in his ear.
He had starred for his county at underage and played 20 times for the seniors by the time he left in 2014. He’d played big games in Croke Park in front of huge crowds and banked the memory of what it was like to claim 1-1 against the Dubs at HQ.
From that to starting from scratch in Oz wasn’t easy.
Brophy talks harshly about how he maybe didn’t match his expectations but there is satisfaction in the knowledge that the scratch has been itched and he won’t be telling anyone else to turn Tadhg Kennelly away if the Listowel man comes calling.
"I'd advise them that it is all positive. I'd be ... not telling them to go but that it is your decision, not Tadhg's decision. Ultimately it comes on the player: he can yes or he can say no. If the club wants him it's up to him.
“But I learned a huge amount in my time over there and it was an unbelievable experience. I learned a lot that I can bring back here. I'd be all positive in, not telling lads to go, but that it's a really good positive experience.”
For him, that chapter is done. There will be no going back.
Unlike some of his peers who swapped GAA for AFL, Brophy never turned out for his parish during the Aussie off-seasons. His last game of Gaelic until recently had been Kildare’s extra-time qualifier loss to Monaghan 33 months ago in Croke Park.
That was rectified inside a day of landing home earlier this month with a 20-minute cameo for Celbridge against Round Towers in the first round of the county senior championship. Word is that his class told in an understated way as Celbridge pulled away late on.
A half-back in AFL, like most of the Irish out in Australia, he’ll revert to the forward lines in, and with, Kildare and he was in Portugal for Kildare’s recent training camp having rejoined the panel just under two weeks ago.
Tullamore against Laois this weekend may be a step too soon but his return is an undoubted fillip for a county that also lost Paul Cribbin, Daniel Flynn and Sean Hurley to Aussie Rules before they too retraced their steps homewards.
There is no guarantee Brophy will slot back in as some have found it impossible to rework the seam they left behind. Kerry’s Tommy Walsh is an obvious example but, one shoulder operation aside, Flynn returns without the litany of injuries that others have laboured under.
“That has affected how they have performed when they have come back. Obviously, there is a small bit of doubt that maybe you won't re-adjust but, if you put it in on the training track and you work hard, there is no doubt that you can get back to where you were.”
Kildare can but hope.
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