With the upcoming Easter Series set to showcase the talents of not just the elite talent of our own leagues, but also eight prominent Gaelic Footballers, we look at five athletes who successfully made the transition to the AFL with European Connections.
Jim Stynes. Gaelic Football. Dublin, Ireland. No player overcame more obstacles to succeed in VFL/AFL football than the late Jim Stynes. The Dubliner, was among the first to accept an invitation to try out with the Melbourne Football club in 1983 and was to endure serial heartbreak on his route to Australian Football’s highest individual honour. He was dropped back to play with Prahran for a while in the VFA, suffered the indignity of costing the Demons a Grand Final place in 1989 when he ran across the mark of Gary Buckenara and was almost dropped at the start of his dominant Brownlow winning season in 1991. He would go on to demolish the record for consecutive games in the AFL, sometimes playing through extremely painful injuries and in his post football career would establish a groundbreaking youth outreach programme and become President of the Melbourne FC. He died tragically young last year after a four-year battle with cancer. His brother Brian also played for Melbourne, and their youngest brother David was a member of Ireland’s International Cup winning teams in 2002 and 2011.
Tadhg Kennelly. Gaelic Football. Kerry, Ireland. Now a very familiar figure in Europe in his role as an International talent manager with the AFL, but also in his coaching capacity with the European Legion and European Titans. Tadhg Kennelly joined the Sydney Swans and went on to play more than 200 games for the club in two spells divided by a return to Gaelic Football with his native Kerry. In winning an All Ireland with Kerry on his return, Tadhg joined his brother and legendary father in winning a celtic cross medal in the green and gold. More spectacularly he was also an essential member of the Sydney Swans Premiership winning team in 2005.
Mike Pyke. Rugby Union. British Columbia, Canada. Okay we’re not trying to pinch glory from our Canadian brethren. Mike Pyke’s introduction to professional sport was in Europe. He joined the Edinburgh Rugby team in 2004 and made his debut for the Canadian national team the same year. He spent two years at the scottish club before moving to France to play for Montauban, it was during this time he scored a wonder try for Canada against the All Blacks. Having incurred some serious injuries at Montauban Pyke began looking at a career change and a friend suggested Aussie Rules, he put together a DVD of his highlights and an agent began to shop it around the AFL. Having had success with Tadhg Kennelly, Sydney were prepared to take a risk and it certainly paid off last September when a huge performance by Pyke helped the Swans to another Premiership.
Ivan Maric. Basketball. Melbourne, Australia. The mighty mullet and current Croatian Footy ambassador may have been raised in Australia, but he did not take up footy until he was 16, having been a basketball player prior to this. Maric honed his skills at the Calder Canons, but nearly quit football in his second year having become frustrated with the technical aspects of the sport. He persisted thankfully and has now played more than a hundred games for Adelaide and Richmond. Maric’s generosity has been obvious in recent months as he has provided support to the Croatian Knights national team.
Pearce Hanley. Gaelic Football. Mayo, Ireland. In at 5, but a man who is certainly carving a great career for himself in the AFL. Last season was a breakthrough one for the Irishman who hails from Mayo on the country’s western seaboard. Hanley, was a prodigious talent in Gaelic Football playing for his county’s senior team at 17. The following year he joined the Brisbane Lions and he made his debut for the club late in the 2008 season. In the last two seasons he has been an ever present for the Lions and last year finished third in the club’s best and fairest, a massive achievement at a club with superstars such as Simon Black, Jonathan Brown, Joel Patfull and Tom Rockliff.