FORMER Kildare minor footballer Paul Cribbin has said that Tommy Walsh's impressive Aussie Football League debut in the NAB Cup is an inspiration to him and other Irish rookies who aspire to play Aussie Rules at elite level.
Eighteen-year-old Cribbin is just starting his own bid to break into the senior ranks at Collingwood but has been following his compatriot's progress closely and admits that he's always looked up to the Kerry man.
"I watched him on telly and it was great to see him doing so well and great to hear the commentators being so positive and praising an Irish player," Cribbin says.
"It gives you a real sense of pride and togetherness to see other Irish players doing so well. Ireland is a small country so to come over here and play in the biggest competition in Australia is amazing.
"It definitely shows you it's possible because he's only in his second year. I'm also seeing first year guys and rookies from our club debuting in their first year so it makes you eager to do well and not settle for playing in the VFL (AFL reserves competition)."
The Kildare teenager played his first game of VFL last week and his own debut had a very Irish feel, not that he knew it at the time.
"One of the lads said to me (during the game) 'That lad is Irish, number 41, Quinn'. I had no idea but made sure to have a chat to him after the game."
The 'Quinn lad' in question is Essendon's Michael Quinn who was playing for the club's reserves side the Bendigo Bombers. Quinn played just two senior games for Essendon last year but his performances for Bendigo won him the club's 'Best and Fairest' Award. As for Cribbin's performance, the former Gaelic footballer was happy with this first time outing.
"In the week leading up to the game everybody was asking me if I was nervous but I was just treating it the same as a Gaelic game. Luckily I got my first touch after just a few minutes and it went well and led to a goal so that gave me confidence for the rest of the game."
While Cribbin's initial Australian experience has been influenced by watching Walsh's endeavours and lining out against Michael Quinn, it's a former AFL convert that he's constantly being compared to. Down's Martin Clarke's incredible rise to AFL stardom with Collingwood means Cribbin's team-mates at the Pies can't help but compare him and his initial efforts to the Mourne star.
"I definitely cop a little bit of that because I'm Irish, he's Irish, so it's going to happen. But it doesn't annoy me at all. I use it to benefit me. When someone says Marty did this or that or was better at something I use it as a motivation to be better. I'm not going to live in his shadow."
Cribbin may be on the far side of the globe but is keeping a keen eye on Kildare's progress and his brother Keith in the NFL, watching match highlights on his laptop.
"I talk to him (Keith) every Friday or Saturday about how he's going and what the team is for the weekend," he said.