Walsh latest star to get trial in Australia
THE CELEBRATORY tone which greeted Jack O'Connor's return to Kerry football management went a little out of tune yesterday with the news that the county's most promising footballer Tommy Walsh may end up pursuing a career with the Australian Football League.
The 19-year-old Young Footballer of the Year is unquestionably one of Kerry's most exciting talents in years, and yet along with fellow young team-mate David Moran, Walsh has decided to take up a one-week trial with Melbourne-based outfit St Kilda, possibly leading to the offer of a contract for next year.
Both players will travel to Australia in a fortnight's time, with Walsh due to line out for Kerins O'Rahilly's in this Sunday's Kerry county final, also under O'Connor, although club chairman Seán Kissane was last night aghast at the prospect of the game losing another of its most exciting young stars.
"I'm sick of it, to be honest," said Kissane, "the way these young footballers are being treated. You bring them through from the age of 12 or 13 and then they're taken away. But at the same you can't blame the player, and I wish Tommy all the best with whatever he decides to do, but I just wonder where it will all stop."
The offer has come through Australian sports agent Ricky Nixon, who staged the AFL camp in Ireland last August, and speaking on Australian radio, Nixon seemed quite aware the impact of Walsh's potential move: "It probably won't make people in Ireland too happy, but he's coming out," Nixon told Melbourne's SEN radio. "I can't tell you if he'll want to play or stay or if he'll be good enough but he's definitely one of the best talents that I've seen."
Nixon described Walsh as an athletic power forward "in the mould of a Wayne Carey", the AFL star, adding that: "We pulled off a pretty big coup . . . he's previously resisted every attempt to get him out here."
Nixon's programme has already resulted in several other Irish youngsters currently training with AFL clubs, with Conor Meredith of Laois and Niall McKeever of Antrim currently with Richmond. James Kielt of Derry is also set to train with both Kangaroos and St Kilda in coming weeks.
However, Mayo's young talent Tom Parsons, who was part of the Irish team on the International Rules tour to Australia, was also linked with a potential trial in Australia, but which he completely denied yesterday with an obvious sense of bemusement.
"There were some reports in the papers yesterday saying I had actually stayed down in Australia for an extra week in order to try out with a AFL club," said Parsons, a student of civil engineering at Sligo IT. "In fact I was walking down the street today when someone passed me and said, 'I though you were in Australia?'
"I don't know where it came from, but it's absolute total rubbish. I never talked with any club, any agent, nor did I want to. I went to Australia to do my best from Ireland, but I was always intent on coming back, and it never even crossed my mind that I may try out in the AFL.
"All I was thinking about was getting back with Mayo next year, and I've already started into the pre-season weights programme."
Meanwhile, the GAA announced that Seán Ó Laoire is to retire from the position of Bainisteoir na gCluichí at the end of the year, ending one of the longest serving terms within the GAA with over 40 years dedicated service.