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GAA victory in battle for McShane nothing more than a temporary ceasefire

Donnchadh Boyle


Tyrone's Cathal McShane. Picture: David Fitzgerald / SPORTSFILE

Tyrone's Cathal McShane. Picture: David Fitzgerald / SPORTSFILE


Tyrone's Cathal McShane. Picture: David Fitzgerald / SPORTSFILE

On the face of it, the news that Cathal McShane will be part of the Tyrone squad in 2020 brought a happy conclusion to a long-running saga for those of the GAA persuasion.

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Not only will Tyrone have one of their key figures in tow, the championship itself will be a better competition for having its top scorer from last year perched at the edge of the square. In this latest episode of the GAA versus the AFL, the home team have come out on top.

But it feels like nothing more than a temporary ceasefire, as if it's only a matter of time before the same issues raise their head again. If the GAA have won this battle, the war will continue.

The wording of the Adelaide Crows' statement was interesting. They inferred that the decision not to follow through with the move was more down to McShane than them, suggesting that the decision was a personal one for the Tyrone star rather than the club making a call based on talent or McShane's ability to make the transition.

"It is a big decision to relocate to the other side of the world and pursue a professional career in a different sport," they said.

"Ultimately, this was not something that Cathal was ready for and we wish him the very best in his endeavours both on and off the field."

Perhaps they were being kind and had decided it was too late for even a player of McShane's talents to make the switch. However, if it’s the case that the AFL wanted McShane but McShane didn’t want the AFL, then it suggests the long-running 'Irish experiment' in the AFL is heading in a different direction.

At 24, McShane was heading over at a much later stage than most who journey Down Under. For context, the most recent Irish convert to Aussie Rules, Meath's Cian McBride, was just 18 when he signed terms with Essendon late last year.

In recent times, only Cork's Ciaran Sheehan, who shipped off to Australia as a 22-year-old in late 2013, is comparable with the Tyrone man.

The shift in direction, in terms of recruiting policy, has caused unease in the GAA. Emerging players are no longer the sole targets. If established top talents like McShane are now catching the eye, who else could be lured Down Under?

Kerry great Seamus Moynihan added his voice to the growing concerns about how there is nothing to dissuade AFL teams from continuing to poach the best players.

The four-time All-Ireland winner said: "It’s like coming into an orchard, you can come into the orchard and rob the best apples and then you’re gone and you don’t have to pay a price for anything."

It appears as though the AFL's appetite has never been greater. There are currently a record 17 Irish players listed at 11 AFL clubs. A combination of AFL clubs being better able to follow through on their investment in Irish players, as well as a willingness to help combat issues like homesickness, means a gamble on an Irish player carries less risk.

Irish players are also heading for Australia in much better physical shape than before, as witnessed by their results at the combine held in UCD last year.

Even allowing for the age difference in certain cases, the Irish players performed exceptionally well, outstripping their Australian counterparts. Dingle and Kerry goalkeeper, 19-year-old Deividas Uosis, stood out.

"Uosis led all comers with a slick 2.76sec time in the 20m sprint – including 0.92sec over the first five metres – and placed fourth in agility testing with a 7.92sec effort," stated the AFL’s website at the time.

"Both of those would have ranked number one at this year's NAB AFL Draft Combine, putting the 182cm athlete's outstanding results in perspective."

Furthermore, the all-time record for the 20m sprint in Australia is just .01 of a second quicker than Uosis’s time at 2.75 seconds. Others like Down's Pierce Laverty (21) caught the eye of the Australian scouts too.

So it seems that GAA players are a more attractive option than ever before, with clubs now looking at the likes of McShane, who are further down the line in terms of their career development.

Whether the GAA can do anything about players taking their chance Down Under isn't clear. And whether they should is another question entirely.

Many would probably be in favour of some sort of scholarship programme scheme that would at least give the player a choice.

In any case, it appears the Irish experiment is set to run and run.

Online Editors