Kennelly keen to continue AFL’s Irish push

Hell-bent on unearthing the next Irish AFL star, Sydney Swans premiership-winner Tadhg Kennelly will conduct a combine with the countries top 25 young athletes.

Kennelly sits alongside the legendary Jim Stynes, St Kilda’s Hall of Famer and the 1991 Brownlow Medal winner, as the two most successful Irish footballers to crack the AFL.

Kennelly became the first Irish-born player to win an AFL premiership when he triumphed with the Sydney Swans in 2005, and as such will always have a place in the game’s rich history.

And in a fortnight the 34-year-old will cast his eye towards the next generation of Ireland’s stars by helping host a combine in Dublin, where the one-off International Rules match will be played at Croke Park on Saturday (Sunday 0600 AEDT).

His hope is to discover more young talent to complement the likes of current AFL players Pearce Hanley of the Brisbane Lions and tenacious Carlton midfielder Zach Tuohy, as well as a host of uncapped rookies scattered across AFL rosters.

Jack McCaffrey has already drawn interest from AFL clubs and the 22-year-old star is expected to be a driving force behind Ireland’s attempt at forcing an upset of a star-studded Australian line-up this weekend.

McCaffrey is one player Kennelly believes could make the transition, but he’s not alone.

“I’ve organised for 25 of Ireland’s best 18, 19 and 20-year-olds. Hopefully to try and give them an opportunity to go and play in Australia,” Kennelly, an assistant coach with the Australian team, told AAP.

“We’ve had some success with it.”

Conor Glass, who recently signed with premiers Hawthorn, trained alongside the Australian team on Wednesday.

Homesickness has long been an issue with Irish players attempting to crack a new game in a foreign land – and more recently Australian players have succumbed to the comforts of home, requesting transfers to their home states.

While Tuohy and Hanley have been omitted from Ireland’s team for Saturday’s Test, there are a handful lining up who were once on AFL books – Michael Quinn spent time with Essendon, Colm Begley at Brisbane.

“A lot of these boys have actually had links with AFL clubs and have either decided not to go, or stay at home, or it hasn’t worked out for some reason,” Kennelly said.

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