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'Sick of it' and 'comical' - Kennelly and Clarke respond to Mickey Harte's AFL criticism

‘We’ve got [recruiters] for the AFL within our own ranks of the GAA, and that’s sad,’ the Tyrone boss said.

Marty Clarke (left) and Tadhg Kennelly.
Marty Clarke (left) and Tadhg Kennelly.
Image: Donall Farmer/INPHO

TADHG KENNELLY AND Marty Clarke have responded to Tyrone manager Mickey Harte’s recent criticism about recruitment for the Australian Football League [AFL].

Amid Cathal McShane’s links to Adelaide Crows, Harte took aim at AFL recruiters as he expressed his sadness at what he claims is ex-GAA players recruiting from Ireland on behalf of Aussie Rules franchises.

“I’ve not been a fan of the engagement we’ve had with the AFL over many, many years now,” the Red Hand boss told the BBC. “And I think that’s the sad thing about it. It used to be in the past [that] we had unknown Australians trying to woo our players out to their AFL league. Now we have ex-Gaelic players doing it.

“It really saddens me. That’s what we’ve got now: we’ve got [recruiters] for the AFL within our own ranks of the GAA, and that’s sad.”

“It’s something that you know was going to happen,” he added. “All you needed to do was get a few players out there first and get them involved to some degree.

“We find that most of them come home and haven’t made it out there at all, and often don’t even play as-good Gaelic football when they get back. But now they’ve got a different role [available to them] — they can be agents for the AFL.

“And that’s an absolute free gamble for them. If our players succeed out there, it’s a cheap gamble, and if they don’t, they send them back to us to see if we can continue to play football with them.”

Although Harte did not use any names, Kennelly accepted that he is likely among those in the firing line, and he responded to the comments on Off The Ball today.

“It’s nothing new,” former Sydney Swans star and now assistant coach Kennelly said. “Obviously, I understand where he’s coming from and of course he’s going to be disappointed.

I’m almost sick of it. It is almost a consistent theme, and while I understand the frustration within the GAA, I think the AFL is an easy target.

The Kerryman was particularly unimpressed with Harte’s claim that GAA players who travel to Australia often return as inferior Gaelic footballers.

“His comment about players coming and not playing well,” he continued, “there are examples going the other way too.

“Colm Begley came back and has been fantastic for a long time with Laois. Brendan Murphy who was with the Swans went to Carlow when he came back. Chrissy McKaigue who was with the Swans went back and has dominated with his club and captained Derry. So, there are examples every way.”

Kennelly — the only Irishman to win a Premiership medal (2005) Down Under and an All-Ireland medal (2009) — also believes that All-Star forward McShane “will play for Tyrone in 2020″ despite trialing and training with Adelaide, because the AFL’s final playing list has already been lodged for the new season.

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marty-clarke-talks-to-the-group Clarke at the 2017 AFL Combine. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Meanwhile, former Down and Collingwood star Clarke responded to Harte’s comments separately. 

Speaking to BBC Radio Ulster’s Sportsound Extra Time programme, he described Harte’s take on ex-players recruiting for the AFL as “comical.”

The 2010 All-Ireland finalist works in a part-time role with the AFL where he helps with mentoring young Gaelic footballers who have been earmarked for a potential Aussie Rules career. When asked whether Harte’s comments feel like a personal dig, Clarke told BBC Sport NI: “I’m not concerned whether it is or not.

“The one thing that a lot of people that maybe aren’t involved or haven’t had the process on their doorstep… I think there is a huge underestimation of the enormity of what the AFL is and the businesses that the clubs are.

“These are million-dollar businesses and their greatest resources, like any sporting club be it amateur or professional, are their players.

So for Mickey to be suggesting that former GAA players have the authority to go a team like Adelaide Crows and say, ‘Your man McShane, you should pick him up’ is quite comical.

“The hours of research that is done for a profile of a player to fit in to how that team plays… Will a guy fit into their culture, where he’s at in his life? Does he have a career outside of sport that he wants to fit in? These are massive, massive things and these are only done by the clubs.”

The 2010 All-Star also noted that he had no contact with Owen Roes clubman McShane.

“I’ve admired him from afar,” he continued. “There’s no doubt in my mind that the Adelaide Crows did all this themselves.

“I think Mickey Harte used the term ‘free gamble’… it’s anything but. It’s a high-risk strategy. Greater resources are needed to recruit an Irish player, train them up, relocate them and perhaps bring family across on flights.

“It’s certainly not a free hit and a number of clubs don’t bother near Ireland because they see it as such a high-risk.”

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