The Irish Experiment


See also Overseas Born Players

The first cross-over between Gaelic and Australian football took place in 1967 when Harry Beitzel took the "Galahs" team of VFL footballers on a tour of Ireland. A year later his side played a series of matches in Ireland, the US and the UK.

In 1982, with recruiting becoming more of a cut-throat business, Ron Barassi and Barry Richardson travelled to Ireland to scout for young, tall and talented local football players. They returned in 1983, with Seddon saying "airfares are cheaper than transfer fees". 32 more players were invited to trials in late 1984, with Jim Stynes the only player to sign.

Paul Earley was the first recruit to play but he only managed one game. Sean Wight and Jim Stynes were far more successful despite Stynes' heartbreaking 1987 Preliminary Final gaffe. They soon cemented themselves as regulars, and Stynes had a dominant 1991 season which landed him the Brownlow Medal.

An attempt to launch a North American version of the experiment failed when Glenn Ryan from Pasadena, California failed to progress from the same intensive training program in which Wight earned his spot with the team.

Another player that the club missed out on was Niall Quinn who the club sought vigorously during the 1983 pre-season before Quinn took a much greater financial package to sign with the Arsenal soccer team from where he went on to make 92 international appearances for the Republic of Ireland.

As Stynes and Wight started to prove themselves key players rather than novelties other clubs started to take notice of Melbourne's success, and in 1989 Carlton poached the Demons recruiter in County Galway shortly before the national draft. By the end of 1990 Melbourne had brought nine Irish players to Australia, while the other clubs combined had only bought three. Saint Dermott McNicholl was the only non-Melbourne played to play senior VFL/AFL football.

A change to the immigration laws made it harder for clubs to farm their Irish players out to lower level clubs to gain experience, and combined with the reduction of list sizes, the change forced the Demons to delist both Niall Buckley and Anthony Tohill midway through 1991.

No Irish players crossed to the AFL for another ten years until Melbourne dipped back into the market with the rookie selections Nicholas Walsh was rookie listed in 2000 and Kevin Devine a year later but neither played. In the same year Devine was recruited Sydney picked Tadgh Kenneally, whose success made most clubs look again at the Irish program. Despite this Melbourne has not rookie listed a European men's player since 2001.

The club's first AFLW premiership featured Irish players Sinead Goldrick and Blaithin Mackin.

VFL/AFL players

Paul Earley
Sean Wight
Jim Stynes
Brian Stynes

Other players

James Fahey
Tom Grehan
Niall Buckley
Anthony Tohill
Nicholas Walsh
Kevin Devine

AFLW players

Sinead Goldrick
Aimee Mackin
Blaithin Mackin
Lauren Magee
Niamh McEvoy

Irish Times - 06/11/1981
Canberra Times - 28/08/1983
Irish Press - 24/04/1984
Belfast Telegraph - 26/09/1984
Age - 03/11/1989
Age - 02/06/1991

Melbourne FC page
Wikipedia page

Created by Supermercado. Last Modification: Sunday 01 October 2023 13:10:46 AEDT by Supermercado. (Version 22)

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