'We have ex-Gaelic players doing it' - Harte takes aim at AFL recruiters amid potential McShane switch

‘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.’

Mickey Harte and Cathal McShane.
Mickey Harte and Cathal McShane.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

TYRONE MANAGER MICKEY Harte says he is saddened to see ex-GAA players begin to recruit from Ireland on behalf of Aussie Rules franchises, claiming the AFL and its clubs have created a ‘warm market’ within GAA ranks by deploying Irish headhunters in place of ‘unknown Australians’.

Star Tyrone forward Cathal McShane, 24, is understood to be on the brink of a switch Down Under, with the Brisbane Lions reportedly leading the charge to sign the Owen Roes clubman.

McShane was the joint-top scorer in last season’s inter-county championship along with Kerry’s Sean O’Shea, chalking up 3-48 as Tyrone bowed out at the semi-final stage.

Speaking after Tyrone’s victorious McKenna Cup opener against Cavan on Sunday, Harte told the BBC that the All-Star forward is yet to definitely decide his future, and admitted that he had attempted to ‘enlighten’ McShane as to the potential opportunities that could await him back home should he decline the change in codes.

“All I can say is that he has been wooed by some people in the AFL and I think he’s going out there for a few days to experience what that might be like,” Harte said. “There’s no final decision made yet — whether he’s going to go or whether he’s going to stay with us. But at the moment he’s certainly considering that move.

“‘Persuading’ him isn’t the right word — I was trying to enlighten him to the fact that lots of good things can happen for him staying here, and that the things that he’s going over there to try to do are very much more variable.

As you would know, I’ve not been a fan of the engagement we’ve had with the AFL over many, many years now. 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. 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.

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Harte, who has in the past criticised the GAA’s links with the AFL, admitted that his worst fears regarding the connection are beginning to come to fruition. However, the the 68-year-old stressed that his issue lies not in GAA players pursuing a professional career in sport, but rather the manner in which the AFL now harvests the GAA for talent.

He also reiterated that he would wish McShane the best should his star forward perceive the pastures Down Under to be greener than those of home.

“Always, the case was people are allowed to go and play professional sport if they so choose to do it, and I never had any objection to that,” Harte said. “But I never would have thought that another organisation should be creating a warm market for that other organisation to come and take our players.

So, yes, by all means if Cathal McShane wants to go and play Australian rules football, then that’s his prerogative to do so, and I wish him the best if he can do that. I would rather him stay at home — I think there would be a far better future for him if he stayed at home within the ranks of the GAA, within Tyrone and the whole of the country.

“We just have to take what Cathal says; he says he’s going out there for a 10- or 12-day experience to see whether it’s for him or not.

At this moment in time, he has not committed to anything other than to go there and experience what is happening, and it’ll be up to him to make that final decision. And whatever [decision] he makes, we wish him well. We wish it would be for us, but if it’s not then I wish him well with his new option, his new career.

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