Oisin Mullin is the last in a long line of GAA players to make the jump to Aussie rules. I think that it is a jump that for the majority of players does not work out. So, you would have to ask yourself why do AFL teams keep going after these players? The answer for me is that they’re cheap to get, a low-risk, high reward situation.
If there was a fee that these AFL teams had to pay not only would it compensate counties losing their best players, but it would also deter teams for going for players who they have less faith in. I know the argument against this is that it goes against the amateur nature of the game, but at this point for the bigger counties the sport is about as amateur as the Premier league.
Not only is the success rate of these players that go over there very low, many of the players that return never return to the players they were before, the likes of Tommy Walsh who was an all-star before he switched sports and by the time he returned in his mid-20s he was arguably never the same player again.
Of the more than 50 players who have gone over and signed a contract with an AFL team only 8 have managed to get 50 or more appearances which would equal only just over two seasons. While the impact these players have had on these AFL teams have been minimal in most cases, they have been devastating for many counties who lost years on players they could have built a team around.
Even for those players for who it does not work out for, they waste years in development squads learning the rules to a game that is only somewhat similar to our own. The recent rule change to give rookies a fourth year has been added recently which can only exacerbated this problem.
Many of these Irish players going over there are 18 – 21-year old’s and may be 24 or 25 when they return if it does not go well for them. Kerry under 20 all-Ireland winner Stefan Okunbor who recently returned from the AFL after three injury hit years is now 23 restarting his GAA career.
So, not only will counties be losing players who are successful over there, they are also losing four years of players careers who would have played for them but instead were wasted in development teams in the AFL.
Based on all of this, I think the GAA need to start putting in a fee for these players to protect against this. Ireland cannot continue to be seen as a place to take a cheap punt on a player and leave counties empty handed, all the while wasting years of players careers who will not accomplish anything over there.