Former Down player Marty Clarke has begun a new role mentoring young Gaelic footballers identified as Aussie Rules prospects, as the AFL switches its recruitment focus away from the USA and back to Ireland.
Clarke, who played in the 2010 All-Ireland final with Down and had two spells Down Under with Collingwood, has worked as an AFL coach at its Irish combines.
But his new part-time position will step up his involvement in the supply of talent to the Australian game.
“The position will be an expansion of my role here of developing players who have been identified as potential AFL players,” Clarke told the AFL website. “It will be up to me to meet the boys, maintain a relationship with them, conduct a couple of training sessions and watch game footage with them.”
His appointment comes as the AFL confirmed it will not hold its Draft Combine in America this year in order to prioritise Ireland in its search for international talent.
“The collective Combine for this year we won’t go with. But that won’t stop clubs from going to scout individually,” the AFL’s national talent manager Kevin Sheehan said.
“We haven’t dismissed it in the future, and we’ll still scout to see what prospects are around.”
There has been ongoing disquiet in GAA circles about young Gaelic football prospects being coaxed away to the professional game, but Clarke denies the renewed focus should concern administrators.
“The statistics are there that the boys that go out to Australia are only a tiny percentage of registered GAA players, and in the last 30 years, there’s only been 50 prospects come over.
“The vast majority of those boys have come back within three years and are bigger and better players for their clubs and counties. And AFL clubs know it’s very high risk to take on an Irish boy, but the chance of getting a Zach Tuohy, Tadhg Kennelly, Jim Stynes, and Pearce Hanley is a great temptation.”
Meanwhile, this year’s All-Ireland football final will take place on September 2 as planned, after confirmation from Rome yesterday that the first Papal visit in nearly 40 years will take place in August.
Under the rearranged championship structure, the final was originally scheduled to be played in August, but with the Pope set to take part in the ‘Festival of Families’ in Croke Park on August 25, the final was provisionally pushed back one week.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved