Comment: should not 23 Irish-based players be flying to Australia?

September 28, 2017

Conor McKenna at the announcement of EirGrid as team sponsor for the Ireland International Rules team that will travel to Australia for a two-test series.
©INPHO/Tommy Dickson.

Joe Kernan has confirmed that three AFL-based players will be on Ireland's 23-man squad for this year's International Rules Series.

The Armagh man is busy trying to finalise his squad but three men who will definitely be included for the November Tests in Adelaide and Perth are Zach Tuohy from Laois, Mayo's Pearce Hanley and Conor McKenna from Tyrone, who ply their trades as Aussie Rules professionals Down Under with Geelong, Gold Coast and Essendon respectively.

With their experience of the fearsome antipodean code, the trio will undoubtedly be huge additions to the Ireland team and there is absolutely no doubting where their allegiances lie; they will give their hearts and souls in representing their country against their fellow pros.

But is there a stark contraction at play here? Should players who have effectively turned their backs on the GAA to pursue a career in the AFL - which they are of course perfectly entitled to do - be included in the Ireland team at the expense of lads who have stayed at home and committed themselves to gaelic football? Some of whom may have turned down the opportunity to switch to the AFL.

Going back to the days of Jim Stynes and Tadhg Kennelly, it has always been customary for the leading Irishmen in Oz to pull on the Ireland jersey for the hybrid game. This seems natural as the series reflects a tie-in of sorts between the two codes, but is it a folly exercise? This is by no means a smirch on Tuohy, Hanley or McKenna, but their inclusion will mean that three fewer home-based GAA players will be on the plane to Australia in a couple of months' time for what promises to be the trip of a lifetime. A perk for the pros; a snub for the amateurs.

Are the loyal clubmen and countymen who stay at home not more entitled to be chosen on the GAA team? Should those who have opted not to play gaelic football anymore even be considered for what is effectively supposed to be a GAA team? If it's all about winning, then obviously Ireland should field their strongest available team but, in the long term, who's the real winner when the selection of personnel for the International Rules team turns down an opportunity to reward the players who have resisted the temptation of foreign shores and instead honours those who have left?

And this at a time when the AFL has become more aggressive than ever in its pursuit of the best young GAA talent. 


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