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‘The whole time over there, you think about football’ - Paddy Brophy on life in the AFL

Paddy Brophy tells Colm Keys why he quit Aussie Rules

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Paddy Brophy at eir’s All-Ireland SFC launch in Croke Park this week. Photo: Cody Glenn/Sportsfile

Paddy Brophy at eir’s All-Ireland SFC launch in Croke Park this week. Photo: Cody Glenn/Sportsfile

Paddy Brophy at eir’s All-Ireland SFC launch in Croke Park this week. Photo: Cody Glenn/Sportsfile

Paddy Brophy was somewhere on Perth's City Beach last month when he finally reconciled with himself that his days as an AFL player were over.

It wasn't a eureka or cathartic moment by any stretch. He had been mulling it over for weeks, even months, trying to balance the patience of climbing the ladder at a top-four club like West Coast Eagles with the growing attraction of rejoining Celbridge and a Kildare team laden with so many old friends who might just be going places again. He just happened to be where he was with some time for clear thinking. And it all pointed to home.

Brophy is one of four Kildare players of his generation who have tried to cut it in the AFL but who have now all returned home to embellish the sense of resurgence. Football, he admits, has never been far from his mind.

"It (AFL) wasn't going as I wanted. You set yourself expectations but the whole time you are over there you are thinking about football.

"You are going from being probably at a good level of playing the sport to going and starting at the bottom and trying to work your way up.

Expectations "You will always compare your performances from one sport to another and you always set yourself high expectations, expectations I probably didn't meet over there. It was the best decision for me to come home."

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Brophy in action for Kildare three years ago. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach / SPORTSFILE

Brophy in action for Kildare three years ago. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach / SPORTSFILE

Brophy in action for Kildare three years ago. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach / SPORTSFILE

Brophy extended his initial two-year rookie contract by a further 12 months but even as he signed he acknowledged the doubts that swirled in his head. He felt he was getting close to the first team last season and when he was placed third in the club's 'best and fairest', he felt an obligation to stay.

"I was on the second team last year and that obviously played a factor in signing a new contract. I was thinking I was very close to getting a game. But this year was different," he acknowledged.

"I was getting to a stage where I was playing decent football but I didn't see the spot opening up for the first team, I didn't get the opportunity.

"From there I thought to myself, 'I don't see myself breaking in this year. I don't really want to hold on for much longer'. I left on good terms, I left on my own terms."

The challenges were obvious for Brophy from the outset. West Coast Eagles have been one of the strongest teams during his spell there and as one of only two franchises in the Perth area, it differed from the collegiality that greater GAA numbers in Melbourne can generate.

"I was the first recruit from Ireland with the club so there was very little Irish representation," he said. "The hardest thing is probably readjusting and understanding where you are at, and how long it will actually take to actually crack the game. But, when you are at a good level back home, and then you are starting from the bottom, it's hard to take. You have got to be very, very patient, and it was probably something that I didn't have.

"Kildare have been going well the last two years, so obviously there is optimism. I see a lot of my friends playing well, good football. I was definitely encouraged by the way Kildare were moving and even at club level with Celbridge."

He didn't waste time getting back into it, arriving home on a Friday and playing the last 20 minutes for Celbridge's opening championship game the following day, scoring a point.

He wouldn't discourage any prospective GAA recruit to the AFL from going either, reflecting only on a positive experience. Like many of the 51 GAA players who have signed professional terms, though, he has not lasted into a fourth season.

His readjustment to Gaelic football won't take long, he hopes. Brophy's last game for Kildare was against Monaghan in a round four qualifier in Croke Park that they lost after extra-time. The previous year he had scored an early goal and a point against Dublin in a Leinster semi-final before losing by 16 points.

"I see promising signs ahead now so it is definitely something that was in the back of my head."

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