Cathal McShane, will he or won’t he?
That is the question on everybody’s lips as we countdown towards the beginning of the 2020 Allianz League campaign. The All-Star Tyrone full-forward looks set to link up with AFL outfit Adelaide Crows for their preseason training following a breakthrough 2019 campaign that saw him finish as the championship’s top scorer.
Following Tyrone’s win over Cavan in the McKenna Cup this past weekend, Mickey Harte stressed his desire to keep McShane at home while expressing sadness at former GAA players who are actively recruiting the game’s top talent for AFL clubs.
“That’s the sad thing about it. It used to be in the past, we had unknown Australians trying to woo our players out to their AFL league. Now we have ex-Gaelic players doing it, which really saddens me,” Harte told BBC NI.
— BBC SPORT NI (@BBCSPORTNI) January 5, 2020
“We’ve got recruits from the AFL within our own ranks in the GAA, and that’s sad.
“It’s an absolute free gamble for them. If our players succeed out there, that’s a cheap gamble. If they don’t, they send them back home to us to see can we continue to play football with them.”
Whilst Harte didn’t name names when speaking of ex-players who are ‘wooing’ the GAA’s top talent, the one name that does spring to mind is Marty Clarke. The former Down star defected to the AFL where he represented Collingwood 73 times over the course of two spells with the club.
Clarke now works in a part-time role with the AFL where he helps with mentoring young Gaelic footballers who have been earmarked for a potential career in Aussie Rules.
Speaking to BBC Radio Ulster’s Sportsound Extra Time programme, the 2010 All-Ireland finalist described Harte’s take on ex-players recruiting for the AFL as “comical”.
“The one thing that a lot of people who maybe aren’t involved or who haven’t had the process on their doorstep is that there is a huge underestimation of what the AFL is and the businesses that the clubs are,” said Clarke.
“These are million-dollar businesses and their greatest resources like any club, be it amateur or professional, are their players.
“So for Mickey to be suggesting that former GAA players have the authority to go a team like Adelaide Crows and say, ‘you should pick him up’ is quite comical.
“The hours of research that is done for a profile of a player to fit in with how that team plays. Will a guy fit into their culture, where he’s at in his life? Does he have a career outside of sport that he wants to fit in? These are massive, massive things and they are only done by the clubs.”
The An Riocht club man claims he hasn’t had any contact with McShane and that the decision to recruit him would have come from the Adelaide Crows and them alone.
“I’ve admired him [McShane] from afar. There’s no doubt in my mind that the Adelaide Crows did all this by themselves. They would have access to all the games on GAAGO. They would have been tracking him for a number of seasons and they said ‘you know what, we would like to have a conversation with that guy’.
“There would be a very thorough process to see if he would like to come out and the next stage in the process is inviting him out to Adelaide but that would all be done by Adelaide people.
— BBC SPORT NI (@BBCSPORTNI) January 6, 2020
“That’s the point that kind of lost on people who would be suggesting that guys [in Ireland] have the authority to pick out players for these massive clubs.”
The former All-Star also rejected Harte’s assertion that AFL clubs are able to take a “free gamble” when choosing to sign Irish players.
“It’s anything but. It’s a high-risk strategy. Greater resources are needed to recruit an Irish player, train them up, relocate them and perhaps bring family across on flights,” said Clarke, who had two stints with Collingwood in Australia either side of helping his native Down reach the 2010 All-Ireland Football Final.
“It’s certainly not a free hit and a number of clubs don’t bother coming near Ireland because they see it as such a high-risk hit.”