Tadhg Kennelly claims Mark O’Connor’s departure to AFL club Geelong won’t hurt Kerry football.
Another five Kerry teenagers comprised 11 of the players Kennelly is currently assessing in this weekend’s AFL Talent Combine in UCD. Star minor David Clifford is expected to attend next year’s event.
Speaking to The Irish Examiner in Dublin yesterday, Kennelly said: “Mark O’Connor (going to the AFL) is not going to kill Kerry football. The last thing I want to see is Kerry not win All-Irelands but Mark O’Connor being contracted to Geelong is not going to stop them doing that. There is enough talent and programmes there.
“David Clifford has had enough contact from Australia without me contacting him and that’s an issue for David if he is concerned about gaining an opportunity on the other side of the world.
“Of course, I want Kerry to win All-Irelands. Of 51 players, only three have played over 150 games in Australia. What’s Mark O’Connor going to learn in two years? He’s going to learn everything about his body. He’s going to have enough time to get his knees right and more than likely he won’t make it because the stats tell us that and he’ll be back in two years.
“That’s the reality of it but that story is not being told. The story being told is Mark O’Connor is 18 years of age, blah, blah, blah.”
Although Kennelly has been straight up with Croke Park about his activities, he admits there are AFL clubs directly approaching players and their families. Meath’s Conor Nash (Hawthorn) and Louth’s Ciaran Byrne (Carlton) didn’t attend the Combine.
“And I’m the one that gets hit but I’ve no problem with that. I’m not shying away from that — it’s an opportunity for them to become a professional footballer and I’ve got players and parents that want that. He can take it, he doesn’t have to take it. That’s my role.
“The interest is huge because the competition is growing in Australia and there is a shortage of talent – there are only 20 million people in the country so they need talent. The big bad wolf story is the one told, which is fine, and I understand that position because people have invested time and money in people. But I’m doing what rugby and soccer are doing in this country.”
Kennelly has been back in Ireland since the start of the month and despite criticism from Declan Quill and Killian Young about his involvement in encouraging Kerry talent to leave for Australia he claims he hasn’t received any negativity personally.
“It’s the most positive feedback I’ve ever had. Killian’s comments were tongue-in-cheek. Killian was actually laughing as he said it.”
Although the focus seems to be on Kerry’s golden under-age generation, Kennelly points out Dublin’s Cormac Costello, Jack McCaffrey, Ciarán Kilkenny and Emmet Ó Conghaile all attended previous combines.
“Of the 100-plus players tested in the last five years, 10 to 12 Dublin players were put through their paces when they reached back-to-back minor finals (2011, ’12) — “Jack was offered a contract but didn’t take it.”
He said: “Kerry have won the last three (All-Ireland) minors — if Dublin won the last three minors there would be five of their players here. The coincidence is I am from Kerry. I don’t watch minor football in Ireland. We have people who watch them for us and whoever wins the minor there are going to be more of them here.”
Kennelly said the AFL are happy to compensate GAA clubs for the players who switch codes but Croke Park aren’t for the idea.
“In Australia, if you get recruited at 18 years of age your club gets compensated for helping to develop the player. I said to (former AFL CEO) Andrew Demetriou I would love to see this happen for international players and he said ‘no problem’.
“I went to the GAA with it and said we were prepared to put something in place for Irish talent but they knocked us back straight away because they said it was pretty much pay-for-play.”
Meanwhile, the Galway County Board have clarified their position in relation to their presence in the Leinster senior hurling championship. Following former senior manager Jarlath Cloonan’s interview in Thursday’s Irish Examiner, the county board via PRO Michael Curley released a statement, part of which reads: “(The board) wish to emphasise this is the personal opinion of the interviewee (Cloonan) and does not in any way reflect the position of Galway GAA on this matter. We also wish to emphasise the question of the Galway hurlers seeking to join the Munster championship has never been discussed at county board level.
“It is our position the discussions on Galway’s participation in the Leinster championship should be allowed to continue in the hope these will bring about a satisfactory conclusion for all sides.”
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