Monday 5 December 2016

Joyce keen to make mark Down Under

Michael Verney

Published 27/10/2016 | 02:30

After signing three months ago the 19-year-old will begin his professional journey with St Kilda, but he could easily have been in Nowlan Park leading Rower-Inistioge’s charge for Kilkenny SHC honours. Picture credit: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE
After signing three months ago the 19-year-old will begin his professional journey with St Kilda, but he could easily have been in Nowlan Park leading Rower-Inistioge’s charge for Kilkenny SHC honours. Picture credit: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE

He's been waiting three years to finally fulfil his AFL dream but Darragh Joyce would gladly have waited a little longer and changed his Sunday morning flight to Melbourne.

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After signing three months ago the 19-year-old will begin his professional journey with St Kilda, but he could easily have been in Nowlan Park leading Rower-Inistioge's charge for Kilkenny SHC honours.

Not content with realising his professional dream after three visits Down Under and a 'trial year' in UCD, the lure of a final fling with the small ball just couldn't be dismissed.

Scoring ten points from centre-forward, the 2014 All-Ireland-winning minor captain illustrated what the Cats will be missing as 'The Rower' narrowly fell to O'Loughlin Gaels in the last four.

Chance

Despite being over 17,000km away "the hurl will always be in the hand" and it'll be hard to leave the opportunity of joining older brother Kieran, man of the match in the 2014 All-Ireland final replay, in Kilkenny's ranks. But this is a once in a lifetime chance.

"My dream growing up was always to be on the Kilkenny senior team and managed by Brian Cody, maybe some day I might be able to come back there and squeeze in on the team," he says.

"But this opportunity has come up and I'd be foolish to let it pass. A lot of lads would die to get the opportunity that I have, so I can't wait to get going.

"It's not going to last forever, you get the opportunity for however long it's going to last. This is something every young child wanted to be so I definitely had to jump at that opportunity. I've really fallen in love with this sport, the physical element to it, a mixture between Gaelic football and rugby so that really appeals to me."

Kilkenny is anything but a football hotbed and the idea of Australian Rules is "foreign" on Noreside, but having been schooled in Good Counsel, New Ross, Joyce showed a flair for the big ball and is a natural fit.

Living in Dublin for a year helped him prepare for the culture shock coming down the tracks as he matured physically and emotionally, with St Kilda never losing contact and monitoring specific strength and conditioning as well as nutrition programmes.

"Nothing was left to chance" with former Down and Collingwood star Marty Clarke appointed as kicking coach, with regular oval ball sessions in Islandbridge, while scouts even visited his parents to ease their minds.

Joyce will be joined by Geelong recruit Mark O'Connor but it'll be fellow St Kilda rookie Ray Connellan who he'll be spending most time with. And it'll be a change to not feel like they're competing against one another.

"We were going out there in June and we thought we were in competition with each other, we thought they could only take one of us because they had international rookies on the list already," Joyce says.

"We were trying to get one up on each other the whole time - we're great friends but you'd be in competition out there the whole time. Whatever way the contract worked out they could take the two of us, but we thought otherwise and drove each other on."

Sydney Swans rookie Colin O'Riordan has been a great sounding board on the life-changing move, and Joyce is fully prepared for the "serious stuff" to begin on November 11.

"You have to sort out a whole new life. You're getting a car, a house, a bank account, a phone, you're getting everything sorted again," Joyce says.

"Tadhg Kennelly said the toughest thing you'll ever do in your life is an AFL pre-season - if you get through that you can get through anything in life."

Joyce will return home for 10 days at Christmas, with his parents heading Down Under at Easter to "break up the year" as St Kilda cover every base to ensure he can emulate cousin from Austrlia, Kevin Walsh, who played for Essendon in the '80s, earning All-Australian selection.

"You would be anxious to impress and earn everyone's respect. I'm eager just to get out there and stay out there."

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