by Daragh Ó Conchúir
A crop of young GAA players from around the country are being put through their paces in Dublin this weekend in a bid to join the growing Irish community within Australia’s AFL.
The 20 youngsters from 12 counties convened yesterday (Thursday) for the AFL Europe Combine, ahead of two days of fitness and skills testing in UCD under the eagle eye of AFL Europe officials and former AFL player Marty Clarke.
Video interviews conducted by Clarke also form a crucial part of the weekend, at the end of which a handful will earn invitations to the testing academy in Florida in January.
The combine has yielded positive results for AFL recruiters in recent years, with Cork’s Mark Keane (Collingwood), Derry’s Anton Tohill (Collingwood) and Dublin’s James Madden (Brisbane Lions) earning two-season contracts this year having caught the eye in Dublin, Florida and, in the case of Keane and Tohill, at the AFL’s Draft Combine in Melbourne.
In all, six GAA players were recruited in the last few months, Kerry’s Stefan Okunbor (Geelong), Sligo’s Red Óg Murphy (North Melbourne) and Derry’s Callum Brown (Greater Western Sydney) all jumping at the opportunity to try life as a full-time sportsman.
That brings the tally of GAA recruits in the AFL for 2019 to a record 14.
The players participating in the combine are Liam Byrne (Meath), Jason Scully (Meath), Pearce Dolan (Leitrim), Luke Towey (Sligo), Mark Barrett (Kildare), Rory Egan (Offaly), Barry O’Connor (Wexford), Ronan Devereaux (Wexford), Cillian Rouine (Clare), Seán O’Donoghue (Clare), Seán Walsh (Cork), Paul O’Shea (Kerry), Colm Moriarty (Kerry), Josh Ryan (Limerick), Conal Kennedy (Tipperary), Jack Kennedy (Tipperary), Peadar Mogan (Donegal), Rian O’Neill (Armagh), Ross McQuillan (Armagh) and Conor Horan (Mayo). Kildare’s Aaron O’Neill was ruled out through injury.