|Posted on 26 May, 2017 at 5:55|
GALWAY senior Cillian McDaid and last year’s All-Ireland minor winner with Kerry Stefan Okunbor have been invited to attend the annual AFL Draft Combine in Melbourne in October.
The pair trained with the AFL Academy in Florida in January, along with David Shaw (Kerry) and Evan Murphy (Galway), impressing with their athleticism and ball skills, as well as their interviews with the scouts from various clubs.
They will travel to Australia in September to train once more with the academy players before attending the national trials at Etihad Stadium.
McDaid, who starred as Galway reached the All-Ireland U21 final this year and played in the course of the westerners’ successful Allianz League campaign, has been on the radar for some time.
“He starred in the U21 Gaelic competition and he's been out to the US a couple of times and continues to improve and still focus on a potential AFL career” the AFL's national and international talent manager Kevin Sheehan told AFL.com.au.
“He tested 2.90 seconds for his speed, so he's certainly quick and he's skilful on both sides of the body. His agility is elite, and he's worked very hard to improve his Sherrin (football) skills.”
The 6’3" Okunbor caught the eye too, showing plenty of pace and athleticism for such a powerful individual.
“He trained the house down with our boys and is desperate for a chance at the professional level” said Sheehan. “He's got that speed and endurance combination, he works hard. He'd run straight through a brick wall for you and loves the physical contact.”
The pair will follow the likes of Essendon's Conor McKenna, Sydney's Colin O'Riordan, St Kilda duo Ray Connellan and Darragh Joyce, and recent Geelong debutant Mark O'Connor as Irish players who have come through the pathway to get selected by AFL clubs.
Clubs will watch the hopefuls at the combine and will also be free to put in offers to them if they are interested in listing them as category B rookies. Under those rules, the international athletes are free agents, so can sign with any AFL club at any time.
Sheehan said that Ireland would continue to be a potential source for talent but is aware very few will make it.
“We know it's a small market, there's just an odd kid who is prepared to make a massive change in his life to pursue a professional career. It's as simple as that.
“Many boys are happy to stay as amateurs and continue to play Gaelic football, and that's fine. But there is a small number who are prepared to make a massive sacrifice, so we give a couple a chance to try and fulfil that dream.”
The international scouting programme is run by former Kerry and Sydney player Tadhg Kennelly, with players from all over the world being tested for traits that would be suited to elite Aussie rules football.
Speaking from Florida in January, Okunbor made his ambition to pursue this opportunity clear.
“I’m in college in Limerick and study engineering and I can't see myself sitting at a desk the rest of my life” said the Na Gaeil teenager. “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.”
McDaid echoed those comments.
“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.”