Thursday 18 January 2018

Aussie dream too good to turn down - Quinn

Michael Quinn of Longford had the quickest conversion to the AFL, lining out for Essendon’s senior team within five months of his arrival.. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Michael Quinn of Longford had the quickest conversion to the AFL, lining out for Essendon’s senior team within five months of his arrival.. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

Having served five years as Kerry county chairman, Patrick O'Sullivan took aim in his final address.

Describing what he saw as the "heavy scouting of our top minor players" from the AFL, O'Sullivan called on the GAA and the GPA to do more to keep the country's top young players at home.

"The GAA, and that includes Kerry GAA, and the GPA should be doing more to persuade Gaelic games' best players to remain in the country - give them scholarships and ensure they want for nothing when it comes to third level education," he argued.

"The problem is it's too easy to come in and take a player and it's too easy to send back a player crocked. And it's too easy to sell a lifestyle that might be further from the truth."

Kerry's connection to the talent drain is unique given Tadhg Kennelly's involvement in recruitment, while having won three minor All-Ireland titles on the bounce, they are an obvious place to start for any outfit looking to grab the best young talent around.

Talent

But they are far from the only county to lose top young talent to the AFL in recent years. Meath, Derry, Louth, Tipperary and others can make similar claims.

But what, if anything, the GAA can do remains to be seen. Longford's Michael Quinn spent three seasons in the AFL and saw both sides of professional sporting life. He made a dream start to life Down Under. He still holds the record for the quickest GAA convert to make his debut for the AFL. Having signed with Essendon in August 2008, he made his senior bow just five months later, something the late Jim Stynes described as "phenomenal".

He might also hold the record for how quickly his AFL career ended. Just days before he was due to head back for another season, a quick phone call from Melbourne told him he wouldn't be needed. And with that, his time was done.

"I kind of half-looked (for a new club) but I didn't look too hard," Quinn recalls. "The hardest thing for me probably was getting closure. I flew home as soon as the season finished but you're told that in eight weeks' time you're back training and you have a date for preseason.

"I hadn't been in touch with the club a whole pile except for the odd call to the football operations manager and I was told the manager of the team would be in contact shortly.

"It was three or four days before I was supposed to go back, I rang to see what the story was because I had no real confirmation. I rang the football operations guy and he said he'd get in touch with the coach and (the coach) would ring me.

"And about half an hour later he rang me and said 'thank you very much for your contribution to Essendon Football Club, it's been a pleasure working with you but we are not going to keep you on, all the best in the future.'

"And that was it. It was about a minute's conversation. I had to organise myself to get back out to Australia - flights and stuff - and pack up my stuff and get home. There were people in the club who did help out. But it just shows you the other side of things too."

Despite the abrupt ending, Quinn has no regrets about his time Down Under. And he told Meath's Conor Nash as much when the Simonstown youngster picked up the phone before his move to Premiership champions Hawthorn in November.

And while there's merit in O'Sullivan's suggestion, Quinn isn't sure what could have been done to stop him taking up the offer.

Before he went he had a year done in Civil Engineering in DIT and had helped the college to a Freshers All-Ireland. He had also been on the books of Bohemians underage sides and was "more looking down that road" than towards a career in the GAA.

But when Essendon put a contract in front of him, there was little hesitation.

"I don't think anything would have made me stay. It's great that the county might be keen to keep you but the incentive mightn't be as much if you're from a so called weaker county like Longford," he says.

Opportunity

"Maybe the lure of winning an All-Ireland would be a factor worth considering. But for myself and I think most guys that do go it's an opportunity to be the best you can be as a sportsperson, whether that means you come back in five years' time and you are the best Gaelic footballer you can be or you make it another sport in the AFL.

"That'd be how I looked at it: that you were only going to better yourself if you went about it the right way."

The AFL's recruitment drive here is unlikely to stop. As an organisation they have been expanding considerably in recent years and have examined new places in the search for talent.

Recently, a basketball player from Texas made his full debut in the AFL. Kennelly might be viewed with suspicion given his role but Quinn insists his presence is a good thing for Irish hopefuls looking for a sounding board.

Quinn's own recruitment experience was fairly convoluted. As he understood it, he went to a camp in UL to try out for the Carlton club but ended up being invited to Australia by Essendon.

He believes too that clubs are more careful about not only the type of athlete they sign, but also the kind of person.

"There's a lot of work being put into Irish guys in Ireland rather than going out there and start from a clean slate then," he says. "I know Conor Nash and Conor Glass have a lot of work done in Ireland.

"That seems to be the way a lot of clubs are going at the moment in that they are going to do a lot of work with the player in Ireland to make certain that when they do make the effort to recruit from Ireland that they are up to it," he says.

That more discerning recruitment process was born out of necessity, according to Quinn.

"With players coming home early after a short stint. . . when a club puts a massive effort into getting you and it doesn't last there are jobs on the line on their side of things too," he explains.

Quinn's overall experience was overwhelmingly positive. Nothing, he says, could have stopped him heading out. And he'd be slow to warn others against giving it a shot.

"Just the experience, something like that you'd be foolish to regret it," he says. "And if you regret it, you probably went with hesitation on your mind in the first place.

"I went with the attitude of giving it a lash for the first two years, and I did that. And whether between personal issues and being homesick or not being good enough or picking up the skills as quickly as I could have or should have, (I came home) but I have no regrets.

"I did my best, I just didn't last as long as maybe I would have wanted to."

Irish Independent

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