'I don't understand why this can't be avoided. You might only get one chance to play for your country'
INTERNATIONAL RULES CLUB v COUNTRY:Laois footballer Colm Begley talks to GAVIN CUMMISKEYabout the frustrating predicament facing some top players
FORMER AUSTRALIAN Rules and current Laois footballer Colm Begley has confirmed that victory at club level this Saturday would rule him out of the International Rules series.
The Stradbally native not only plays for Parnells in Dublin but he is an employee of the club that is also home to Ireland captain Stephen Cluxton.
“I can’t speak for Stephen but if we win on Saturday (against Ballymun Kickhams in the Dublin quarter-final) I won’t be able to go to Australia. If we lose I can go but I’m not thinking like that.
“I know there are flights held over for a few other lads in the same situation – Finian Hanley, Leighton Glynn and of course Stephen Cluxton.
“It’s tough,” Begley said of the potential club versus country fixture clash. “You don’t get a chance to play for your country that often but the club is the club. That’s why I am here. I have worked as a coach for Parnells since I returned from Australia.”
Begley has been an ever-present for Ireland since the 2006 Test Series when he had just completed his first season with the Brisbane Lions. He played 29 games and scored seven goals for the franchise before spending the 2009 season with St Kilda.
Begley subsequently returned to Ireland and has become a mainstay in the Laois team during the past two championship campaigns.
The 25-year-old is understandably frustrated with the situation created by the lack of a streamlined fixture list that makes room for the International Rules.
“I don’t understand why this couldn’t have been avoided,” said Begley. “It is just two and a half weeks for the GAA and county boards to look at it and say, ‘right, Ireland are playing so no games will be played’.
“You might only get one chance to play for your country. It is a massive honour.”
Anthony Tohill’s squad will not depart as a full unit, as initially planned, this Friday. Instead players attending the All Star awards and those who complete their club commitments will follow over the weekend or on Monday.
As it stands, Kerry’s Darran O’Sullivan cannot travel as his team, Mid-Kerry, are in the county final but the Ulster Council delayed their provincial club championship to ensure Down’s Kevin McKernan and Donegal’s Michael Murphy can represent Ireland against Australia. However, the backlog of fixtures in Dublin and Galway looks set to weaken the Ireland squad.
Salthill/Knocknacarra captain Finian Hanley will become unavailable should they beat Tuam Stars in their semi-final replay on Sunday.
“We play against each other at county level and then we get to come together as a group. It is a fantastic experience and it’s unfortunate that lads have to miss out on that.”
The Cluxton situation, in particular, raises concerns about why Tohill selected someone who was potentially going to be ruled out of travelling due to club commitments.
However, Begley believes his clubmate, and the man who kicked the winning point in this year’s All-Ireland final, was the natural choice for national captain.
“To some Stephen might have been a surprise selection as captain but he is a leader. It is evident at every training session, be it for Parnells or Ireland. Very composed, seeks perfection at every session.
“It was fully backed by the players. It was a good choice for me but obviously he is in a difficult position now, like me.”
Another Laois man who followed Begley’s path to Australia is Zach Tuohy. Currently with the Carlton Blues, Tuohy has been added to the Irish squad and is in a unique position to provide specific information, along with Tommy Walsh and Tadhg Kennelly, on Rodney Eade’s Australian players.
“I have talked to Zach Tuohy about them and they are a fast and small team, which is different to last year when they had a mixture of both.”
Begley also spoke about the impact of Kildare manager Kieran McGeeney at Irish training sessions along with the recent inclusion of Carlow’s former Sydney Swan recruit Brendan Murphy.
“My first experience of Kieran McGeeney was playing alongside him in my first year (2006) with Ireland.
“We went down to Toulouse for a training camp (facilitated by Trevor Brennan) – he is very professional, intense at training and just very dedicated to what he does.
“He has come in and brought a bit of aggression to the tackle. I have enjoyed working with him so far. It is a different level to many of us.
“Brendan Murphy has been going really well at training. He is a big, powerful force. You want to get the ball to him. He is a fantastic talent – I have a lot of respect for him. He works really hard no matter what he is doing. I was delighted to see him get in there. He’s had a fantastic year for club and county.”
Meanwhile, after eight years playing in Australia former Cork hurler Setanta Ó hAilpín has been delisted by the Carlton Blues.
The 2003 young hurler of the year must now take his chances in the AFL draft but Blues coach Michael Quinlan is confident the 28-year-old has a future in the AFL.
“Setanta has got unfinished business mate – he is not going anywhere,” said Quinlan.
“I believe he has still got development in his game. His natural aggression at the ball and also his ability to go forward, back and pinch hit in the ruck which are all handy assets to have at the moment.”
Carlton were forced to cut a player to ensure they met the requirements for minimum selections in the draft. They chose to release the out-of-contract Ó hAilpín as opposed to the younger Paul Bower.
“We haven’t got a bloke who is shattered, thinking his career is over. We’re looking at him continuing for sure.
“We definitely feel he’s got plenty more to offer and even more development left in his game.”