Tadhg Kennelly says that the international rules series, which starts on Saturday with the first test in Cavan, is a testament to the late Jim Stynes, who played for both Ireland and Australia over a long and successful AFL career.
“There’s a bloke who’s passed away, Jimmy Stynes who was one of the biggest believers of the whole and if anything it’s a legacy to that man, who loved playing the series,” said Kennelly, whose own career encompassed an All-Ireland with Kerry and an AFL premiership with the Sydney Swans and who is part of Michael O’Loughlin’s Australia management team.
He explained how he became involved. “A good friend of mine, a team-mate for nearly 12 years, Mick asked me would I get involved and I said, ‘why not?’ The first person I had to tick it off was my mother and when she said ‘yes’, it was game on. I’m a big believer in the series and I’ve played in six of them.
“It’s a bit different obviously coaching with Australia against Ireland, my own country but as I’ve said I’m passionate about the whole series and want it to succeed and want to keep it going and I think the Australian boys need more help in adapting and making the transition.”
The AFL team this year is made up of indigenous players, an initiative that has had its critics in Australia.
“It’s a legacy to that man, who loved playing the series” – Tadgh Kennelly, on Jim Stynes’s influence
“It’s been asked,” says Kennelly, ‘why do it with indigenous players?’ Is it reverse racism? Those kind of comments come out which is a load of bull. That’s going to happen on both sides of the world. There’s knockers, who don’t want it to succeed. I think every time I played they were always saying, ‘it’s on its last legs’.
“As a player it’s up there with anything I’ve ever done. It’s playing with your country and being able to represent. It’s putting on your country’s jumper. It’s pretty big. It’s a proud moment for the Australian boys and the Irish boys playing in Cavan.”
Among the indigenous players are Tony Armstrong and Eddie Betts, a veteran of the last series played here three years ago.
Armstrong is a flatmate of another Kerry All-Ireland winner in Sydney, Tommy Walsh, who missed a lot of the season with the Swans because of injury.
“We live in Paddington in Sydney and he’ll be coming up to the Cavan test but he’s got to be back for pre-season before the Croke Park test. He’s a lovely fella and he’s going alright,” he said.
“He tore all three hamstring tendons off the bone and that ended his season but he’s coming along really well and should be looking for a big year next year.”
Armstrong believes that the AFL’s more natural pressing game will be an advantage for the visitors: “I think in the Gaelic game they get a lot more time on the ball and even if they’ve got someone right behind them they can still generally retain possession.
“In our game it’s a 360 (degrees) tackle game and you can get blind sided and that sort of thing so we’re really hoping to bring our pressure because we think that’s probably the hardest thing for the Irish guys to adapt to.”
This article was originally published in The Irish Times.