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'If Gaelic wants to go down that route of paying players, I think it would potentially ruin it' - Mooney

Caolan’s Mooney’s club Rostrevor take on Sean Cavanagh’s Moy in the Ulster IFC final on Sunday.

AS A FORMER professional athlete, Down wing-back Caolan Mooney is well-placed to assess the pros and cons of the GAA paying its players.

AIB GAA Club Championship Provincial Finals Media Day Source: Ramsey Cardy/SPORTSFILE

Mooney spent three years on the books of AFL side Collingwood between 2012-14, before returning home after admitting Aussie Rules didn’t appeal to him.

He enjoyed his best season in the Down jersey in 2017, and on Sunday will contest the AIB Ulster intermediate club final against Moy with his club Rostrevor.

For Mooney, there’s no comparison between the professional and amateur games.

“As a city and living there, it was brilliant,” he says. “As a sport, it didn’t really get me excited to be brutally honest. It’s not as good as Gaelic in my eyes.

“Gaelic football is more about your passion. Aussie Rules, you there because you’re being paid to be there. They’re all competitors and they all want to win, but a county team winning together is far better than when you win in Australia.

“You go home to your own houses in Australia, you’re all living in different suburbs. In a county team it’s more local, you’d be going out together and celebrating together.

“The first two years when I went, I was still naive, and I thought, ‘This is brilliant I’m getting paid to kick a football.’ In my third year, I thought this wasn’t as enjoyable as I thought it was going to be.

“If I had of went out a bit older or if I had a bit of college experience. Being thrown out there and living away from home by yourself was a tough ask and by the third year I had my fill of it. I was sick of it and wanted to get home.”

Caolan Mooney Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

It’s often assumed that returning to inter-county football from the AFL is an easy transition, but for every Marty Clarke there’s players like Sean Hurley and Tommy Walsh, who struggled with injury after returning to these shores.

“My first year I came home, we got promoted, but then in the championship we had a bit of a stinker. For personal reasons I walked away from Down to get myself right. I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to play for the county, so that break away, it kind of helped me.

“Marty Clarke set the standard for all the boys returning. He got them to an All-Ireland final. I was put out of Ulster in the first round and then in the qualifiers. You have to be patient. Daniel Flynn came out and said that he’s only starting to adjust. It takes a while to get back into the swing of things.

“The speed of the game (is different). The fitness coming home from Australia for off-season, playing club U21s, I’d always find I’d be gassed after about fifteen minutes playing Gaelic. It’s a different kind of fitness. I think getting yourself tuned into that.

“I came back injured, so I came back to Down only 50% fit, and I was trying to do everything all the other lads were doing, and I tore the hamstring and I repeated that again after Christmas.

“This year, it was just about getting the body right. I’ve slimmed down a bit, I’ve shredded about 5 or 6 kilos for example. I think that took it’s toll on me, I didn’t need that weight. So I got myself trimmed down with some extra work with our strength and conditioning fella.

AIB GAA Club Championship Provincial Finals Media Day Source: Sam Barnes/SPORTSFILE

“I think it’s the first time since I’ve come home from Australia that everything has fell into place as such. I went a full season without getting injured, touch wood. I’m really enjoying my football and how it went this year.”

Mooney was offered a late call-up to Joe Kernan’s International Rules squad after injury and club commitments ruled out Conor McKenna and Paul Kerrigan respectively, but he chose to put Rostrevor first.

“I’d told our club manager before I’d actually told dad because he was sleeping at the time. He goes, ‘You turned down Australia?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I was hardly going to turn my back on the club.’

“I’ve went to America the last couple of summers, so I couldn’t really turn my back three years in a row.”

The42 has just published its first book, Behind The Lines, a collection of some of the year’s best sports stories. Pick up your copy in Eason’s, or order it here today (€10):

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