AFL Talent Ambassador, Kevin “Shifter” Sheehan, recently joined the AFL Europe Podcast and revealed his ‘Ireland AFL All Stars’ side.
The team of 23 is comprised of Ireland’s best Australian Football players who made the move Down Under, from Gaelic to Australian Football, since the first Irishman signed into the league 40 years ago beginning the ‘Irish Experiment’.
The AFL has seen more than 60 Irishmen join the league since Kerry’s Sean Wight, who played 150 games for the Melbourne Demons. Derry’s Anton Tohill became the 27th and most recent Irishman to debut in the league, lining up for the Collingwood Magpies in round 19 of the 2021 season.
There are currently 14 Irishmen listed with an AFL side including Laois’ Zach Tuohy and Kerry’s Mark O’Connor, who both play for the Geelong Cats.
Sheehan’s squad is led by Brownlow medallist Jim Stynes as captain, and Tadhg Kennelly as vice-captain, who is the only Irishman to have ever won an AFL premiership.
“Stynes still holds the record for the most consecutive games (244 matches) in VFL/AFL history. He won the Brownlow Medal in 1991, was twice an All Australian and won Melbourne’s best and fairest on four occasions,” said Sheehan.
“He represented Victoria in State of Origin Football, as well as both Australia and Ireland in International Rules Football. His story is arguably one of the greatest success stories of a player in AFL history after initially being sent to Prahran in the VFA to learn the game!
“Tadhg Kennelly has been the only player in history to win an AFL Premiership Medal (Sydney Swans in 2005) and a senior All Ireland Championship Medal (Kerry in 2009). Kennelly also played for Ireland on 12 occasions in International Rules Football, winning Ireland’s best player award in 2011 as well as his 197 matches for the Swans.”
SHEEHAN’S IRELAND AFL ALL STARS TEAM
Colin O’Riordan (Tipperary/Sydney Swans)
Sean Wight (Kerry/Melbourne Demons)
Mark O’Connor (Kerry/Geelong Cats)
Conor McKenna (Tyrone/Essendon Bomvers)
Darragh Joyce (Kilkenny/St Kilda Saints)
Marty Clarke (Down/Collingwood Magpies)
Jim Stynes (Dublin/Melbourne Demons)
Pearce Hanley (Mayo/Brisbane Lions & Gold Coast Suns)
Dermot McNicholl (Derry/St Kilda Saints)
Tadhg Kennelly (Kerry/Sydney Swans)
James Madden (Dublin/Brisbane Lions)
Zach Tuohy (Laois/Carlton Blues & Geelong Cats)
Ciaran Byrne (Louth/Carlton Blues)
Setanta O’hAilpin (Cork/Carlton Blues & Greater Western Sydnet Giants)
Colm Begley (Laois/Brisbane Lions & St Kilda Saints)
Caolan Mooney (Down & Collingwood Magpies)
Conor Nash (Meath & Hawthorn Hawks)
Anthony Tohill (Derry/Melbourne Demons)
Conor Glass (Derry/Hawthorn Hawks)
Mark Keane (Cork/Collingwood Magpies)
Ciaran Sheehan (Cork/Carlton Blues)
Tommy Walsh (Kerry/St Kilda Saints & Sydney Swans)
Michael Quinn (Longford/Essendon Bombers)
Captain: Jim Stynes
Vice-Captain: Tadhg Kennelly
*Currently playing in the AFL.
“It’s now been 40 years since Sean Wight became the first player from Ireland to sign with a VFL/AFL club when he joined Melbourne Football Club. He became a premier defender playing 150 matches as well as representing Victoria in State of Origin matches and playing for Australia in International Rules Football in 1987.
“Whilst Jimmy Stynes became a champion of the game, the likes of Sean Wight, Tadhg Kennelly, Pearce Hanley and Zach Tuohy as well as the emerging Mark O’Connor have become genuine stars of the AFL adding to the rich history of Irish/Australian football and cultural interaction.
“Anthony Tohill is possibly the star who got away. Delisted by Melbourne in 1991 after playing in the final year of the VFL Under 19s (he also had fractured his leg), and with Melbourne having the prospect of having to pay his university fees the next year, Tohill was not re-contracted and so returned to Ireland becoming a superstar of the Gaelic game.
“Four times an All-Ireland All Star, he won an All-Ireland Championship with Derry, starred against Australia in three International Rules series including captaining his country and then coached Ireland successfully against Australia in 2005. Jimmy Stynes always said he was the one that got away. His son Anton is currently with Collingwood.
“Marty Clarke whose career was cut short by illness (a blood disorder stopped him training at an elite level) now provides coaching and mentoring for prospects in Ireland before they come to Australia.
“Current AFL players in Colin O’Riordan and Mark Keane returned to Ireland at the end of the 2020 AFL season and played in significant wins in the All-Ireland Championships for their Counties with the full support of their AFL clubs.
“Former Essendon star Conor McKenna, who created great excitement with his dash and dare from defence for the Bombers in 70+ games, retired from the AFL in 2020 returning to Ireland and his County Tyrone at the end of the season and was another to have a positive impact in matches for his beloved County.
“Eighteen Irishwomen also played in the AFLW competition in 2020 including trailblazer County Mayo’s Cora Staunton with the GWS Giants, herself an eleven-time All Ireland All Star (a record in GAA history).
“When he debuted this year with the Brisbane Lions, James Madden from County Dublin became the 26th Irishman to play senior AFL football since the Irish experiment began 40 years ago with nine of those players playing more than 50 games.
“Lithuanian-born Kerryman, Deividas Uosis, became the 64th Irishman to join the AFL in that 40-year period when he signed with the Brisbane Lions for the 2021 season.
“Other currently AFL listed Irishmen making their way in the Jimmy Stynes pathway are Anton Tohill (Derry/Collingwood Magpies) who made his debut in round 19 of the 2021 season, Stefan Okunbur (Kerry/Geelong Cats), Cian McBride (Meath/Essendon Bombers), Callum Brown (Derry/GWS Giants), Luke Towey (Sligo/Gold Coast Suns), Barry O’Connor (Wexford/Sydney Swans), and Deividas Uosis (Kerry/Brisbane Lions) making it a total of 14 Irishmen in the AFL in 2021.
“Once the dust settles, post COVID-19, I am sure a handful of Irish men and women each year, will continue to follow in the not often travelled path established by Jimmy Stynes and Cora Staunton in search of unique success in a sport they would not have even dreamt of in their childhood!”