OVER 20 of the country's most prized young Gaelic footballers have accepted invitations to undergo private testing on behalf of the Australian Football League (AFL) at DCU on Tuesday.
AFL ambassador Tadhg Kennelly will be present, with 21 Gaelic footballers making up the 23 invited to take part.
"Twenty-three athletes from all over Ireland and the UK will attend," Kennelly revealed. "These tests are the same as those conducted in Australia and enable us to compare athletes from all over the world. (We look) for athletes and footballers with athletic prowess with the skill to potentially play AFL."
A media conference is being held on Tuesday after testing has finished where Kennelly will answer questions along with AFL Europe general manager Ben McCormack. They will reveal the names of those taking part.
The AFL 'Combines' are part of the AFL's "international search for elite talent from a variety of sporting backgrounds," a statement claimed. It said tests had been conducted in the US, China, New Zealand and South Africa. When complete, two athletes will be selected to attend the 2013 AFL Draft Combine in October. The AFL Draft Combine tests the best 100 Australian draft prospects in Melbourne at the Etihad Stadium over a four-day period.
Last year, after the first combines were staged in Dublin, Ciarán Kilkenny impressed and eventually won a rookie contract. He has since returned home after deciding the career wasn't for him. Two other players, Seán Hurley of Kildare and Derry's Emmet Bradley, also made it to the Australian draft combines.
Croke Park's Fergal McGill said the GAA was satisfied it had a healthy and open relationship with the AFL, and that it had been fully informed of Tuesday's tests and what players were attending. Relations between the bodies soured in the past over recruitment incursions, notably those staged by the agent Ricky Nixon.
"Ricky Nixon promised a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow but we believe that when the AFL are in control they are up front and open with players and their prospects," McGill commented.
"It's not a simple thing for a 17- or 18-year-old to drop everything and move to Australia, it's not the same a lad going to play soccer in England. It's an opportunity and far be it for the GAA to deny any young lad the chance to play professional sport. But in terms of a threat to the GAA or a fear I don't believe it is of any significant threat to our players. We believe the percentage going will be minuscule. The threat is more perceived than real."
The AFL's Ben McCormack echoed the GAA's sentiments. "Tadhg Kennelly's story is one of outstanding success in the AFL and there has been a few other examples. I think as a coach, like in any other sport, it is silly not to look at talent all across the world, not just in Ireland. We would be silly to think only Australia has suitable athletes. We have been in contact with the GAA and made them aware of the event."
Relations between the GAA and the AFL were strained in the past due to the recruitment activities of Nixon, most notably, who has since halted his operations. Talks were held on the divisive issue before the restoration of the International Rules series in 2008 but the following year Nixon held screenings of over 20 players in Dublin. He said he hoped what he was doing would make the GAA "sit up, take note, and do more for the younger players in Ireland".
Current AFL players with Gaelic football backgrounds include Down's Martin Clarke and Zach Tuohy of Laois.