Irish players in the AFL

Video: GWS Giants Irish rookie's amazing goal

GWS Giants Irish recruit Callum Brown has described his first season playing Aussie Rules as ‘brilliant’.

The former Derry U20 starlet was recruited as a rookie by the Sydney outfit ahead of the current season becoming their first ever Irish rookie recruit.

He’s impressed the club in his first season playing the game, averaging more than ten possessions in the NEAFL and even scoring five goals.

"It's been brilliant so far," Brown said.

The Limavady man was key in his county reaching the All-Ireland U20 football semi-finals last summer.

It was the Giants' Irish defensive coach Nick Walsh who spotted his talent when Brown impressed with his pace and strong ability under the high ball when Derry triumphed over Walsh's native Cavan.

"He texted me and said: 'I'm from the GWS Giants, we've been watching you for at least a year now. We think you have potential'.

"It was a shock, from Australia to come and say we want to have a look at you, we want you to come out in the summer as well."

The 18-year-old had already proved himself a versatile sportsman as he had also been on the books of Linfield FC.

Now getting to grips with a new code, he is finding his feet as a defender.

"I started off as forward but they wanted me to learn the game more down in the halfback position, they want me to be more of a running role.

"At the minute I've been playing back the last couple of weeks, been really picking up the game there and improving my skills in that area.

"I'm starting to get the hang of it now as well, even calling the shots during games, telling the boys where to go, what positions to sit in. So far they're very pleased with me.”

Brown is one of six fresh Irish players on AFL lists this year with James Madden at Brisbane Lions, Anton Tohill and Mark Keane at Collingwood, Red Óg Murphy at North Melbourne and Stefan Okunbor at Geelong.

Callum Brown says he is confident of breaking into the senior side.

Callum Brown says he is confident of breaking into the senior side.

"I love how they're able to come over as well, in the same position as I am. It's brilliant how they bring other boys over here so they can experience what it's like to play professional sport. Even for myself just the first irish man to come across and play for GWS, it's pretty exciting."

While he is the first GAA player to be signed as a rookie into the Giants set-up, he is not the first Irish player to wear the orange and grey. Setanta O'hAilpin played eight matches for the Giants in 2012/13.

Also, the current GWS defender Aidan Corr was born in Tyrone and emigrated to Australia with his family at the age of three.

"[Aidan] tries to say he’s the first Irish Giants player but I just don't take him on, don't take him on at all."

Brown hopes to emulate Irish players who have made their AFL breakthroughs in recent seasons.

"The position they're in right now is brilliant. Since they've been here a couple of years, they know the whole game plan and how it works and the system. For myself being new to the sport, it's a bit harder to get into it but watching them play, I can progress my skills and just think: ‘If they can do it, then I can do it as well’."

Brown is confident of making a similar breakthrough and is even cheeky enough to suggest that he will take the place of club veteran and legendary defender Heath Shaw in the senior team.

"If I stick to how I'm going now, I could possibly take Shawie's place as well. He thinks I won't take it but I one hundred per cent will take it."

That might have to wait until the 2020 season but the GWS Giants are almost certain to play finals footy in both the AFL and NEAFL competitions.

Kennelly defends AFL recruitment of young Irish stars

Sydney Swans coach Tadhg Kennelly says he understands the frustration of some GAA fans who see talented young players abandon Ireland for a crack at Aussie Rules.

But the popular Kerryman defends the pathway as a great opportunity to play professional sport.

Two years ago Kennelly was criticised in the Irish media by his former Kerry team-mate Tomás Ó Sé for his part in taking top prospects away from GAA in his role then as AFL Talent Coordinator.

“I see both sides of the argument,” the now 38-year-old said in a revealing interview with the Irish Echo.

“I understand if I was a young man at home in Kerry and I’m watching Mark O’Connor go and play for Geelong.

“I wouldn’t be happy. It would be tough to watch because that’s what you bleed at home, you bleed Kerry football and you don’t want to see your best talent going.

“But I also see the other side of the argument. He’s a young man getting an opportunity to play professional football, getting to challenge himself in a game he knows nothing about and an opportunity to put it up against people in a game that you don’t know. I understand both sides of the argument. Which one’s right? Who knows?”

Kennelly is in a unique position of having reached the pinnacle of both games: in 2005 with the Sydney Swans and in 2009 with Kerry.

“I’ve been able to live both of them, going back to play football at home and getting to play as a professional here with the Swans,” he said.

“It’s a tough one and I see both sides of the argument. But I also understand there’s been close to 70 Irish players that have come out here. There’s only a handful of us who have played over 150 games of AFL football, the majority go back.

“That’s the first thing I say to players or anyone who talks to me about coming out here. It’s f**king hard and it’s a hard thing to do because you’re playing a game you knew nothing about, you haven’t been able to grow up with it, you don’t understand it and it’s tough. The majority of players go back and they go back better Gaelic footballers because they have lived in an environment of being a professional for a couple of years.”

In 2009, Tadhg Kennelly became the first irishman to win both an AFL Premiership and an All Ireland Championship.

In 2009, Tadhg Kennelly became the first irishman to win both an AFL Premiership and an All Ireland Championship.

Kennelly is also a veteran of International Rules, having played in six series. While he is a fan of the concept, he is not confident that the hybrid code can find a way forward.

“It’s difficult, it’s hard and I understand the demands on both codes as far as the GAA and AFL are concerned,” he said.

“There’s a lot going on, a lot on their plates. It’s hard to get momentum up because it’s a year, two years between games and it’s hard to get the momentum going.

“I’m a huge fan of it, it’s an opporunity for you to represent your country which both codes don’t get and you talk to any player who’s played in it, they absolutely love the experience and love playing for their country. I hope it does continue because it’s an opportunity to represent your country.”

Having spent his entire AFL career at the Sydney Swans, Kennelly returned to Sydney Cricket Ground two years ago and is now defensive coach.

He is also a member of the club’s Hall Of Fame having played 197 games for the ‘bloods’ becoming the first Irishman to win an AFL premiership in 2005.

In the extensive interview, Kennelly also revealed that if Kerry had not won the 2009 Championship, he may have stayed on in Ireland.

Irish Swan's career takes flight with new contract

Sydney Swans Irish defender Colin O’Riordan has been given a major vote of confidence by his club after accepting a two-year contract extension.

The new deal will see him remain in red and white until at least the end of 2021.

Colin O’Riordan has signed a new contract with the Sydney Swans. Picture: Sydney Swans

Colin O’Riordan has signed a new contract with the Sydney Swans. Picture: Sydney Swans

Originally from Tipperary, O’Riordan joined the Swans as an international rookie in 2015, following in the footsteps of Kerrymen Tadhg Kennelly and Tommy Walsh.

A star Gaelic footballer and hurler as a teenager, O’Riordan captained Tipperary to the Munster U21 football title in 2015 before deciding to try his luck at Aussie Rules.

He made a seamless transition to the Australian game, earning NEAFL Team of the Year honours in his first season on Sydney’s list in 2016.

In Round 17, 2018, O’Riordan’s hard work and thriving NEAFL form were rewarded when he was called up for his AFL debut in a six-point win against North Melbourne.

He also captained the Swans NEAFL side in the grand final loss to Southport last year.

After breaking back into the senior team in Round 8 this year, the 23-year-old has not looked back, playing nine games in a row and providing a wealth of drive from the backline. He also scored his first AFL goal against Conor McKenna’s Essendon.

Colin O’Riordan pictured in 2015 when he captained Tipperary to the Munster U21 Gaelic football title. Picture: Sportsfile

Colin O’Riordan pictured in 2015 when he captained Tipperary to the Munster U21 Gaelic football title. Picture: Sportsfile

Swans Head of Football Charlie Gardiner says O’Riordan’s new contract is a great reward for tireless effort.
“From the moment Colin walked into the club he had a real determination and desire to become a consistent AFL footballer,” Gardiner told the Sydney Swans website.

“Colin’s such a driven and competitive person who works incredibly hard to improve each year. He’s gone to another level again this year and has emerged to become an important member of the team.

“We’re excited he’s joined a number of our emerging youngsters in re-signing, and we look forward to seeing what Colin can produce for the remainder of the season and in years to come.”

Watch O’Riordan’s press conference here.

O’Riordan joins Callum Sinclair, Jordan Dawson, Nick Blakey, James Rowbottom, Justin McInerney and Harry Reynolds, as well as coach John Longmire, in recommitting to Sydney in 2019.

Six new Irish recruits for AFLW

Australia-born Tipperary GAA star Orla O’Dwyer has signed for the Brisbane Lions in AFLW.

Australia-born Tipperary GAA star Orla O’Dwyer has signed for the Brisbane Lions in AFLW.

Ailish Considine showed the massive part Irish women can play in the AFLW when she was instrumental in her Adelaide Crows team emerging triumphant in the Grand Final in April and several AFLW clubs have looked to Ireland to improve their squads for next season.

Tipperary dual star Orla O’Dwyer has joined Brisbane Lions. Galway star Mairead Seoighe has penned a deal with North Melbourne. Fremantle have signed Aine Tighe of Leitrim and Kate Flood of Louth while Mayo sisters Niamh and Grace Kelly have moved from the West coast of Ireland to the West Coast of Australia by joining West Coast Eagles.

All five Irish women who competed last season have had their contracts renewed so there are now 11 Irish women on AFLW lists.

It will be a return to Australia for Orla O’Dwyer who was born and spent some of her childhood here.

O’Dwyer, who is also Tipperary camogie captain told The Irish Echo: “I’m really excited about joining the Brisbane Lions. To now have the opportunity to play a new sport like AFLW in a new country is such an experience in itself. I know that I will have a lot to learn and adjust to but I’m looking forward to the challenge ahead and pushing myself and being involved in a professional setup.”

She is the Brisbane Lions first Irish signing, something she says makes her feel extremely privileged.

“It’s great that they have given me this amazing opportunity and all the staff, background team and players have been so welcoming and helpful which makes me feel more comfortable about the move in October.”

Other clubs were chasing O’Dwyer’s signature but she decided Brisbane was to be the club for her.

Ailish Considine made history in April when she became the first Irish woman to win an AFLW Premiership with the Adelaide Crows.

Ailish Considine made history in April when she became the first Irish woman to win an AFLW Premiership with the Adelaide Crows.

“Initially, I had a couple of interviews with AFLW clubs but Brisbane Lions just stood out. They had a great knowledge of my style of play with camogie and ladies football and a plan of how I would benefit the team.

“They have excellent players and I’m excited to meet them all and play with them. Also, they offered me a contract in a matter of hours after the interview which showed me that they knew what they were about, and I’m delighted with my decision. I know Brisbane has a large Irish population, and I am hoping they will get behind me.

“I was born in Australia and my parents lived there for a few years in the late 90s and some of their friends from that time are now living in Brisbane. I hope to catch up with a few when I get over.”

O’Dwyer has been inspired by the success of the other Irish players in the AFLW, particularly Cora Staunton.

“I watched with great interest a documentary about Cora Staunton, it documented her move to the AFLW. She has been a great role model for women’s sport in Ireland,” she said.

Staunton has suffered a setback in her bid to continue her stellar career. The 37-year-old broke her leg while playing in the AFL Sydney Premier Division Women’s competition for the UNSW Bulldogs.

Staunton was the first international player to be drafted into the AFLW in 2017, clearing a path for many Irish girls to follow. She has scored 11 goals in 14 games for the Giants. She had already been invited back by the Giants to play in her third AFLW season.

Cora was optimistic in a social media post that showed a picture of her laid up in a hospital bed, saying: “Just want to thank everyone for all the support (calls messages etc) and help. I will be forever grateful to all my @gwsgiants family & unswbulldogs for everything ye have done for me. Sport can be cruel sometimes but hopefully this is only another challenge for me.”

Giants AFLW head coach Alan McConnell told The Irish Echo: “It was a shocking injury that Cora suffered, but as always she’s taken it head on as another challenge.

“Our medical team has been working closely with Cora in recent days to ensure she has the best care available to be able to get her rehabilitation

under way. There’s been a huge amount of support sent Cora’s way and all of us at the Giants are very grateful for the love that’s been shown.”

As the first Irish import, Staunton is credited with inspiring other clubs to look to Ireland.

On this, Cora told The Irish Echo during the past season: “People talk about it being me [that inspired the Irish influx of players] and I’d say next year it will double or treble with four more teams coming into the competition. In part it’s to me but in bigger part it’s to the Giants and in even bigger part it’s probably to Al [McConnell, Giants AFLW head coach].

“I’ve been extremely, extremely lucky. I’ve played inter-county senior football for 24 years, since I was 13. I’ve won everything that there is to be won in the game. I’ve been lucky with injuries. I’ve been lucky that my body has let me keep playing.”

Hawks hand Meath rookie AFL debut

Conor Nash becomes the third Irishman to debut in the AFL this season.

Conor Nash becomes the third Irishman to debut in the AFL this season.

Meathman Conor Nash will debut for Hawthorn FC this weekend, the third Irishman to debut in the AFL in 2018.

The 20-year-old joined the Hawks in late 2016 as a Category B rookie.

A promising athlete in his youth, Nash split his time playing Gaelic football and rugby. He represented Ireland in the U18 rugby side, and was touted as a star in the making due to his pace and stature.

He has since transferred these traits to the game of Aussie Rules, enjoying a breakout season with the Box Hill Hawks while averaging 13 disposals, four marks and just under a goal a game.

“I’m absolutely ecstatic,” Nash told Hawthorn's website after hearing the news that he’d be making his AFL debut against the Geelong Cats this weekend where he will come up against Laois-man Zach Tuohy and Kerryman Mark O'Connor who may get his first game for the year.

“When I found out yesterday in front of the family in the car, it was just pure joy."

Nash’s parents and young brother and sister were enjoying a holiday in Australia and were preparing to return to Ireland before receiving the news.

“Clarko (coach Alistair Clarkson) asked them if they could prolong their flights until Sunday or Monday,” Nash said. 

“I can’t wait, and I look forward to contributing to the team."

“They’ll get to see me play which is a very special moment for them, and for myself as well.”

The 197cm utility from Navan has shown an aptitude for several different positions on the ground, and says he’ll bring the pressure in whatever role he is given.

“I’ll be creating chaos, [creating] pressure as well, and using my speed and athleticism. 

“I’m sure I’ll be spent after the game.”

Nash becomes the third Irish player to debut in 2018 behind Tipperary's Colin O'Riordan for the Sydney Swans and Darragh Joyce for St Kilda. Nash's Irish teammate Conor Glass made his debut last year but none of the trio have been selected this weekend.

Elsewhere, Pearce Hanley is back in action for the Gold Coast Suns, Ciaran Byrne retains his place for Carlton and Conor McKenna starts for Essendon. 

Zach Tuohy kicks dramatic Geelong winner after the siren

Zach Tuohy is the toast of Geelong after scoring the winning goal for the Cats against Melbourne.

Zach Tuohy is the toast of Geelong after scoring the winning goal for the Cats against Melbourne.

Laois native Zach Tuohy had the biggest moment of his AFL career to date on Saturday, kicking the winning goal for Geelong after the final siren.

The 28-year-old marked the ball 30m from goal with five seconds left on the clock and held his nerve to give the Cats a two-point win over the Melbourne Demons at Kardinia Park in Geelong.

Tuohy, who was swung forward in a move made by defensive coach Matthew Scarlett to start the final term, took a contested mark against a lunging Neville Jetta.

Tuohy was mobbed by his Geelong teammates who ran in to celebrate with the defender-cum-forward.

"It's kind of a dream after the siren to win the game – it was a pretty special moment and I'm obviously pretty happy that it went through, but even if it didn't I would've been proud of the fact that I put myself in that position to get the win," he told reporters after the game.

Cats coach Chris Scott said it was Scarlett who deserved credit for moving Tuohy forward in the first place.

"Reg (Tuohy) did all the things in our front half that 'Scarlo' predicted he would," Scott said.

"He's a really good contested player and he's pretty cool under pressure too. There weren't many other players that we would have preferred with the ball in their hands at that stage."

Tuohy said he's not likely to make a habit of playing forward.

"It was news to me when it happened. It wasn't pre-planned. I've never played forward (in my career), not even for a minute," Tuohy said.

The former Laois Gaelic footballer has become one of the most successful Irish AFL players since starting his career at Carlton in 2010.

He has now played 161 AFL games (closing in on Tadhg Kennelly's 197) and has scored 51 goals. None have been quite as dramatic as his winner against the hapless Demons who were 31 points ahead early in the final quarter.