Earley’s selection as Ireland coach for next two series a surprise but credentials are impressive
Paul Earley: technical credentials and experience of playing both Gaelic football and Australian Rules. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Yesterday’s news that Paul Earley has been appointed manager of Ireland’s International Rules challenge for the next two series came as a surprise to many but the former Roscommon All Star’s credentials are impressive.
His appointment is, nonetheless, a departure from previous practice, with coaches largely recruited under two headings: International Rules experience or being former All-Ireland winning managers.
Colm O’Rourke is the only one of his predecessors not to have ticked either box but in what might be an encouraging precedent the former Meath footballer of the year and RTÉ pundit has the best record of any Ireland coach, with series wins in both of his two years in charge, 1998 and ’99.
In fact, the new appointment has a couple of things in common with O’Rourke’s: both played for Ireland during the initial series of the 1980s and Earley is also a television analyst, with Setanta, and was on duty only the other night during the opening league double bill at Croke Park.
Like his immediate predecessor Anthony Tohill, Earley – who becomes the first international manager from Connacht – was also on the books of AFL club Melbourne Demons. He was the first Irish player to feature in an AFL match, his one and only appearance in 1984 having played with the reserves after his recruitment in 1983.
Two of his clubmates from Ireland, Seán Wight and Jim Stynes – both of whom passed away in only their 40s – went on to have long and successful careers with Melbourne but Earley decided against staying and returned to Ireland at the beginning of 1985.
“Melbourne is a fantastic club,” he told this newspaper at the time, “and treated me very well. It was a great experience and I loved every minute of it but Melbourne is a long way from home.”
One of his wishes was to play for Roscommon before his older brother Dermot wrapped up his legendary career and this he did to such effect he earned an All Star in the year of his return and two years later was selected by Eugene McGee to play in the 1987 International Rules series, which Ireland lost.
He featured on the Roscommon sides that won Connacht in 1990 and ’91 before going back to Australia in the mid-1990s with his family to work in Sydney for a couple of years.
At that time, Ron Barassi – a pioneer of International Rules and who had been his coach at Melbourne – was a director of the local Sydney Swans.
They renewed acquaintances and Earley began to attend matches and got to know coach Rodney Eade, coincidentally the Australia coach in the 2011 series, and a few players, including one he played against in 1987, Paul Roos, who had actually been sent off in that year’s third Test.