The pinnacle of many a Gaelic footballer’s career is pulling on that green Ireland International Rules jersey. That is the only international dimension currently for the GAA.
Are some of our best players missing a trick and playing the wrong game? The RTE series The Toughest Trade as we know throws up scenarios where well known GAA players swap roles with professional sportsmen and see how they get on.
So we’ve had Michael Murphy trying his hand at rugby with Clermont Auvergne, Lee Chin took to the ice to play hockey; we’ve had Jackie Tyrrell hitting a few baseballs and Aaron Kernan played soccer at Sunderland. The traffic of pro sportsmen the other direction is as interesting, Shane Williams togged out and impressed on the Gaelic pitch. Typically Pro Sports cannot understand how the GAA is amateur, given the fitness and commitment required.
Whatever the Jersey, Size Matters
For a relatively small country, Ireland holds its own as a sporting nation. Soccer, rugby, boxing and GAA. The dominant sports are gaelic games. One of the points trotted out about success in sport, is that the mighty All Blacks draw their playing population from a smaller pool of people than any other rugby playing country, yet they are still more successful. To be fair, the New Zealanders also don’t have Gaelic football and hurling as popular alternatives, nor do they have a strong soccer culture. So, rugby it is. All Black by birth. Rugby because, they’re from New Zealand.
If we drill down into it, some of the players that have switched codes from Gaelic Football to rugby are Rob Kearney, who played minor football for Louth; Shane Horgan played minor for Meath, Gavin Duffy played for Mayo at minor level and briefly rejoined the senior panel a couple of years back; Robbie Henshaw was a Westmeath minor. Mick Galwey memorably was on the Kerry squad that won an All Ireland in 1986 and Moss Keane played up to u21 level with Kerry. Tomas O’Leary captained the Cork minor hurlers to an All Ireland before switching to the oval ball.
All things being equal what other GAA players of note would make it as a rugby player?
Always occurred to us that Peter Canavan could have easily played at 9 or 10 in a rugby team. His ball handling, deft movement and precise kicking would have been a major asset. Canavan also proved time and again in the International Rules series that he relished the physical aspect of the game.
With his skill set there is no doubt Connolly would make a great rugby player. We’re thinking a centre, possibly 13 where his mobility, strength and ability to operate effectively off both sides would be a huge advantage.
Donaghy has been called up by the Irish basketball team and with his handling, vision, use of the ball and that hint of aggression, he would be a handful in the line out. The rough and tumble wouldn’t worry him either. We’re going for Star in the second row.
If his old adversary Connolly was playing in the centre, we might find a spot for Keegan as a number 7. The mental strength, the physical prowess in turning the ball over and making tackle after tackle required at openside. Even popping up for the odd score.
Michael seemed to enjoy his sojourn over in France when filming the Toughest Trade. what position would he feature in if he made the switch permanent? There’s no doubt he would be formidable in the centre with his movement, and his kicking ability. But for his physical presence, aerial ability and power we’re going with No 8.
Judging by his recent performances behind the Slaughtneil gainline, his strategic kicking and his ability to join the line at pace we think Chrissy might be a good contender for a rugby Full back. Secure under the high ball, good handling skills and full of confidence he would be well able for the 15 jersey.
The Monaghan man is a serious athlete with fantastic mobility and versatility. He’s played nearly every position for Monaghan including goals, so we’re thinking he would be an option as a number 6. Another man that could get round the field, breaking and making tackles.
There is no equivalent in Gaelic football to the Prop. The larger variety wouldn’t be able to function on the Gaelic pitch and the shorter tubby version is what you might see stuck in goals in an underage match circa 1985. That’s not to say there aren’t players in the game who would fancy the odd skirmish in the front row. A well fed Ryan McMenamim? The McGee boys? Kieran McKeever? We’ll leave it to your imagination.