The Paudie Kissane column: Someone like Ciarán Sheehan is impossible for any club or county to replace

The Paudie Kissane column: Someone like Ciarán Sheehan is impossible for any club or county to replace
Cill na Martra's Noel O'Leary giving chase to Éire Óg's Ciarán Sheehan, back in 2012. Picture: Cillian Kelly

THE loss of young Irish Gaelic footballers to Australian Rules football has been in the news once again.

Seven young players have taken up offers of rookie contracts with clubs in Australia.

These players are big losses to their clubs and county teams in Ireland but you really can’t blame these players for taking the chance in Australia. The majority of players who play inter-county Gaelic football would love the opportunity to train full-time and play football for a living.

The biggest challenge for the players is coping with being so far away from home and missing family, friends and the Irish way of living. Otherwise, there are not many reasons not to give it a go. The dream professional career doesn’t always go to plan though.

Many players will come back home after a few years either due to injury, not getting a new contract or just realising they are unlikely to make further progress in the professional game.

Ciarán Kilkenny was probably an exception in that he changed his mind on a professional football career with the Hawthorns club in 2013 after only two months. Spending the time in Australia and getting to experience a different sport, plus what a professional environment was like, no doubt made his decision to come home easier.

This change of heart has certainly been a huge plus for Dublin football. Kilkenny has been one of Dublin’s leaders in the recent four consecutive All-Ireland wins.

Cork's Mark Keane and Fiachra Clifford of Kerry in the U20 Munster final. Picture: INPHO/Laszlo Geczo
Cork's Mark Keane and Fiachra Clifford of Kerry in the U20 Munster final. Picture: INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

Cork’s Mark Keane is one of the latest recruits, signing a two-year rookie contract with the Collingwood club. Keane certainly had senior inter-county potential but you can never predict how things will turn out.

The situation was certainly different when Ciarán Sheehan joined the Carlton club in 2013.

Sheehan's talent was a huge loss to Cork football. An-Ireland winner in 2010 at 19 years of age, he had the potential to be a future captain of Cork. That type of player is hard to replace, but again, I can fully understand why he would choose to give Australian football a go.

It can be tough on clubs or coaches who spend years developing these players but that’s just reality of the situation. Maybe there is a place for formal compensation and this was mentioned previously in 2009.

In the AFL, clubs are compensated as part of the draft system. The GAA were open to better player-welfare and support programs in place for the Irish rookie player but they were against the idea of a transfer fee. The danger was that it would lead to clubs in Ireland becoming direct feeder clubs to an Australian football club.

The one certainty is that the movement of young GAA talent to the AFL is not going to stop, so is it time to review to see if there is a way a player’s club in Ireland can actually be compensated in some way?

Ciarán Sheehan at Carlton training in 2014. Picture: Scott Barbour/Getty Images
Ciarán Sheehan at Carlton training in 2014. Picture: Scott Barbour/Getty Images

The 2018 Football All-Stars were announced this week. There were five different players to the team that I had selected as part my own inter-county season review in September.

Still, though, I wouldn’t disagree much with this year’s official selections. Sometimes there is very little between players and it is the same when picking a real team. It can just come down to personal preference.

Apart from Brian Fenton, there were no other standout midfielders this year. I can understand why the All-Star committee selected Brian Howard at midfield. It was the same reason I had Michael Murphy at midfield even though his best game was probably at full-forward in the Super 8s against Roscommon.

Howard at midfield enabled the inclusion of Paul Mannion at wing-forward where he performed very effectively. This then created space for Ian Burke to be selected at corner-forward alongside Conor McManus and David Clifford.

In fairness, looking back, Ian Burke did have some very good games this year. Standout games would have been his performances against Kerry, Kildare, and Dublin. Burke provided Galway with a different outlet up front and was a reminder that inter-county isn’t just about size.

This was particularly noticeable when space was at a premium. It’s one thing making a run into loads of space but where Burke was strong was making the right run into a small pocket of space at just the right time. The key skill was identifying this pocket of space. Credit to Burke and the good coaching he has received.

The county football finals have been completed for another year with massive celebrations in Dromtariffe, Fermoy, and St Finbarr’s GAA clubs. These special days must be celebrated but the challenge now is to question is the focus and hunger there for further glory.

County finals are hard to win and you might not get too many chances of Munster and All-Ireland glory. Many clubs are lucky to get one chance of reaching Croke Park.

Losing finalists St Michael’s and Kilmacabea can certainly tell how hard it is to get over the line as champions. Both clubs would dearly love to be heading into a Munster campaign.

It can tough now but both clubs have the ability to come back stronger again next year. Here’s wishing all Cork county champions the best as they start their Munster campaigns. There are possible rule changes for 2019, along with plans for championship restructuring within both club and county, so much to look forward to and digest.

CONTACT: @PaudieKissane

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