|Posted on 10 February, 2017 at 11:25|
WHILE many in Kerry are decrying the so-called poaching of the county’s top players by Aussie rules clubs, teenage AFL hopeful Stefan Okunbor insists that even the slightest chance to reach his athletic optimum and play sport professionally is too much of a lure to turn his back on.
Okunbor and his All-Ireland minor-winning teammate David Shaw were in Florida recently along with Galway duo Cillian McDaid, who played in the FBD League this year, and Evan Murphy to train with the AFL Academy squad.
Another teammate of Okunbor and Shaw’s, Mark O’Connor has already committed to at least a two-year stint Down Under with Geelong, a development that has caused consternation in the Kingdom.
Okunbor has caught the eye with his power and intensity, and the relish with which he has taken to tackling in particular has been noteworthy. The 18-year-old from Tralee is enjoying his time in America and is excited by the opportunity of being a full-time sportsman.
“Everyone made me feel very welcome and they're all great lads” said Okunbor this week. “I felt pretty comfortable out there on the track with them, and just wanted to have a crack. I felt I could compete physically, even though I was surprised by how big they are.
"Most of the Australian boys are only 17 years old and if they had told me they were 20 I'd have understood it. They're huge; it's crazy for them to be six foot tall and still growing at their age.
“I’m in college in Limerick and study engineering and I can't see myself sitting at a desk the rest of my life. I want to reach my full potential and use my athleticism somewhere.
“The whole idea of a professional set-up: get up, train, sleep and do it again every day, is something I'd love to do.”
Meanwhile, McDaid is delighted to get a second bite of the cherry, having been in Florida 12 months ago with Ray Connellan and Darragh Joyce, who were subsequently signed by St Kilda.
As well as participating in training, McDaid and the rest of the Irish contingent were interviewed by all 13 clubs.
“I really want to give it a go and have no regrets” said McDaid. “Last year talking to recruiters I got a real idea about how hard they want people to work, so I tried to find that level in the past year.
“They seemed happy enough with how I was going last year but I was still doing school so that might have been a bit of a problem. I've strengthened up a little over the past year and have played more senior football back home.
“My skills are good now and I'm happy enough with the footy. Kicking wise and on both feet I think I've improved.”