Delisted Irishman Ray Connellan is back in Melbourne and ready to give our game another crack, after surprisingly being shown the door by St Kilda last October.
- February 24, 2019 5:03pm
- JOSH GABELICH
Unlike most international experiments — especially those recruited by the Saints — Connellan was given the flick after just two years in the system, where he failed to break through for a debut despite strong form in the VFL.
Former hurling star Darragh Joyce — the man Connellan moved across with — received a one-year extension late last year after playing two games for the Saints in 2018, while American Jason Holmes and New Zealander Joe Baker-Thomas were each given four years before being cut.
After returning home for what he thought was for good last October, Connellan has turned his back on resuming his Gaelic football career and on college, determined to prove Alan Richardson and the football department at Moorabbin wrong.
The 24-year-old arrived back in Australia a fortnight ago after sorting out his visa — which takes longer to organise when an AFL club isn’t doing the paperwork — and has signed with Essendon’s VFL side for 2019.
Connellan has moved into a house in Richmond with Hawthorn’s two Irish recruits, Conor Glass and Conor Nash, and has picked up work around the corner at local café A Thousand Blessings.
With practice matches around the corner and Round 1 drawing closer by the day, Connellan isn’t here for a holiday.
“I want to know in ten year’s time that I’ve given it absolutely everything. It is easy to go home and play GAA and settle in, but you’re not going to learn and grow as a person. That’s the reason I’m back,” Connellan told foxsports.com.au this week.
“I’m in a position where I don’t really have a whole lot to lose by coming back over. I want to know in my own head that I’ve exhausted all my potential; if I make it I make it, if I don’t, I don’t and I just go home back to college.
“I feel I was hard done by. I’m by no means feeling sorry for myself or a sob story, I just feel the opportunity wasn’t going to come at St Kilda.
“I’m realistic, if I was crap at this game I would have no shame in going home. But I was playing some really good football and I think as an Irish bloke trying to learn the game in a tough role in a team that’s struggling was hard.”
If the Bombers didn’t reach out, Connellan would still be back in Dublin. That’s where he was in October when Essendon’s VFL head coach Dan Jordan made an approach, asking senior Bomber Conor McKenna about Connellan’s plans, without realising that the pair were sitting next to each other at the time.
McKenna, who has played 51 games in four years at the Bombers, sent Jordan back a photo of Connellan and the recruitment moved from there. They exchanged emails and texts, spoke via Skype and on the phone, before Connellan touched back down in Tullamarine, not far from his new football club.
Essendon, like most, were surprised St Kilda didn’t put more time into Connellan given the investment in bringing him from the other side of the globe. But, unlike St Kilda, they are set to play him at half-back, where most Irishmen thrive with their speed and ball use.
“When Essendon approached me they said they weren’t looking at me for the small forward role, they were looking at half-back and wing,” he said.
“They told me they thought I was stiff to be let go and they wanted to see if I wanted to come down and see if I could do enough to get back into the AFL.”
Connellan is still disappointed that he wasn’t given another year at Moorabbin and played in a position that didn’t suit his strengths. Although he knew his days were numbered before they came to an end.
“I just felt that when you bring a guy over, your first year you’re learning the sport and you’re not really expected to make huge progress. I actually thought I played quite well in my first year,” he said.
“Then in my second year I played a completely different position and that small forward position is pretty hard to break into a side in.
“Looking back in hindsight, I really wish I went back and played as a half-back during the year, because for my strengths and attributes I think I’m much better suited for that role.
“Throughout the year I asked ‘Richo’ numerous times of why I wasn’t in his plans for selection and the answers became more and more vague as the year went on, so that’s when I realised I wasn’t in his plans. That became very frustrating towards the end. The writing was on the wall from five games out.”
There are 14 Irishmen on AFL lists — a record amount — this year.
But there is one who isn’t who is determined to change that fact by the end of November.