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'He's built for it' - Wexford star on his cousin's AFL trial with Sydney Swans

Barry O’Connor is one of five young GAA players set for trials in Australia this month.

Wexford hurler Rory O'Connor and his cousin, county footballer Barry O'Connor.
Wexford hurler Rory O'Connor and his cousin, county footballer Barry O'Connor.

THERE ARE CURRENTLY 14 Irish players on the books of Australian Rules clubs, more than at any other stage in history.

This month, five young GAA players will take part in trials Down Under as they look to forge careers as professional athletes and add to the growing number of Irish in the AFL.

The latest batch of youngsters includes Barry O’Connor, son of Wexford hurling legend George, who was part of the Model County’s football squad during the league. 

O’Connor is one of five players who’ll partake in AFL trials, alongside fellow Wexford man Ronan Devereux, Sligo’s Luke Towey, Peadar Mogan of Donegal and Armagh’s Ross McQuillan.

While the other four are set to take part in the two-week AFL international combine, O’Connor is in Sydney to trial exclusively with the Sydney Swans.

A former club of Kerry forward Tommy Walsh, they currently have Tipperary native Colin O’Riordan on their books while Tadhg Kennelly is involved in the coaching set-up.

“He landed there yesterday and he’s living with Sam Naismith one of the Swans players,” says Wexford hurler Rory O’Connor, Barry’s first cousin.

“So he’s there for two weeks and he’s going to be immersed in the whole thing in how they live and their roles. It’s a great opportunity for him and hopefully he’ll actually get it.

“He went through the combine in UCD with all the lads and was a top-four pick,” continues Rory, who lives with Sligo’s Towey in Dublin.

Launch of Physio Led Personal Training at Sports Physio Ireland Rory O'Connor of Wexford in attendance at the official launch of Physio Led Personal Training at Sports Physio Ireland. SPI gym was fitted out by Model Construction, Killeen Rd, Dublin. Source: Sam Barnes/SPORTSFILE

“One of my best friends that I’m living with Luke Towey from Sligo and another fella from Wexford Ronan Devereux are gone over too.

“There was a scout there from the Sydney Swans that took a liking to Barry so he asked him over for two weeks.

“He’s built for it, he’s conditioned for it, he looks after himself very well and he knows how to kick a ball. It’s basically a rugby ball and we played rugby for years when we were younger. So he might be ahead of the Irish posse in terms of learning how to kick the ball.

“He was with the Wexford footballers and they’re going through a rough patch at the moment. He sees it as an opportunity, anyone would. Even if you go over for only one or two years, it’s a great opportunity.”

Meanwhile, O’Connor is hopeful the GAA don’t restrict the involvement of inter-county players in the Fitzgibbon Cup over the coming years.

The 20-year-old was frustrated with Congress’s decision to change the All-Ireland U21 competition to the U20 grade, which meant he is overage for this campaign. 

“It’s annoying. They take a year on you. I’d be one of the lads U21 that would be playing with Wexford and we’ve never even been asked or surveyed to ask what’s your opinion on the whole thing – they just change it on you.

Shane Conway with Rory O'Connor Rory O'Connor's DCU reached the Fitzgibbon Cup semi-final this year. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“My only fear is that the next thing they’ll do is take Fitzgibbon. I’m just waiting to see what they do but as players you can be playing away and then the next thing your season is gone.

“There’s fellas finishing minor now and they’re just 18 and they need just one more year to make the step to U20 but they’re just idle. They can’t make the U20 team and they’re just out of minor.

“I’ve hopefully three or four years left with Fitz. Hopefully, they don’t touch that. It’s a special tournament. Playing with lads you are actually having the craic.

“Going down on the bus you are cut toe to leg with abuse, the best craic you will have. Generally, the winners of the Fitzgibbon are the team best bonded together. You are probably training the next day with Wexford or your county team anyway. 

“Not really training just going to a different college and hurling with lads you might never play with again. Lads in the same boat, doing the same travel just with a different county team.

“It is the whole calendar year that might have to be looked at. I don’t have an alternative at the moment.”

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Kevin O'Brien

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