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More than lucky

Clair White  July 27, 2017 4:44 PM

Give it a 'Hurl' Darragh Joyce does his best to teach Jimmy Webster how to play the sport he grew up with in Ireland - Hurling. #MulticulturalRound

While luck is often associated with those hailing from the Emerald Isle, hard work and dedication has been the mantra of two Irish recruits looking to jump into AFL life.

Rookies Darragh Joyce and Ray Connellan have been in Australia for about eight months and have certainly made an impression at the club.

After first visiting in June 2016 for a trial, the boys have since run headfirst into life at the Saints including sweltering through the very un-Irish, Australian summer.

“Pre-season was a lot hotter than it was when we came here last June! We managed to get through it though,” Connellan said.

“Luckily the club supplied the sunscreen,” agreed Joyce.

Connellan, a 23-year-old, swift forward and Joyce, a 20-year-old, 194cm tall backman have been regulars on the VFL field for Sandringham throughout the 2017 season.

Both men have taken time to hone their AFL skills, with Joyce saying the last few weeks have really seen things click for him.

“It’s probably been different for the both of us,” Joyce explained.

“It took me a little bit longer, but you’re surrounded by great people here who get in at half seven and don’t leave until at least five.

“There are so many facilities for you to learn in, so you literally can’t come out of here without becoming a better AFL footy player.”

Connellan agreed, saying time has been the most important thing to his progress in converting his traditional Gaelic Football skills to Aussie Rules. 

“Coming out at the start of pre-season you’re just learning and making stupid mistakes all the time,” Connellan said.

“But everyone was very forgiving, which was brilliant because it makes you feel comfortable to make mistakes and just move on. Since the VFL season has started, I think with every game I’ve gotten more and more comfortable.

“I started off down back, which wasn’t my natural position – back home I was an out-and-out forward – but now since I’ve moved forward in the last month or so I’ve found my spot and I’m starting to enjoy my footy as much as I did back home.”

The notion of home has been an ever-changing one for Ray and Darragh, as they’ve adjusted to life with their host families in Melbourne.

“I’m with the Everett’s,” Connellan said. “Rosemary and Bruce, they’ve got a beautiful house and are really good people. All their kids have moved out now, so it’s just the three of us and Poppy the staffy who keeps me company. They’ve looked after me better than I could have ever expected”

“I’m in a similar situation with the Slater’s. They’re a really good family with a gorgeous place and have pretty much become my second family.”

The boys got a taste of home life in March when their parents came to visit.

“It was great to see them,” Darragh said. “They came down to the club one day and the facilities here compared to back home are just amazing, so they couldn’t get over that. All the people around were really loving and welcoming, so they loved that aspect.”

Ray concurred, saying putting faces to names eased the minds of his Mum and Dad.

“What they really enjoyed was that they go home now very happy with where I am and who I know and when I turn around and say I’m going for a meal at a certain place, they’ve been there. They can picture it in their heads,” Connellan said.

“They’ve met the staff here, they’ve met the coaches, they’ve met a few boys I hang around with on a day-to-day basis.

“It gave them that peace of mind knowing I’m comfortable on the other side of the world and that I’m in good hands.”

All in all, while the changes have been plenty and there have been many stumbling blocks along the way, Vegemite included, both Ray and Darragh could not recommend the experience more.

“Expect homesickness because it will happen at some time or another,” Joyce said.

“But once you get over that initial phase, just go and enjoy it. You’re in a whole new country and it’s just a good adventure to be on.”

“If I was a kid now, sitting back at home having contact with an AFL club, knowing something is going to happen and you’re going to sign, just embrace it,” Connellan said. 

“You’ve got nothing to lose by coming over here. If I’d come over here and after two months I decided I wanted to pack it in and go home, really what have I lost? I’ve had an incredible experience. 

“If Richo called me in now and said “Sorry, Ray. It’s not working out. You have to go home.” As disappointed as you’d be, you’ve really lost nothing. You got to experience a new culture and meet new friends you’ll know forever.

“So, why would you not do it?”