Swans star Kennelly quits AFL - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

Swans star Kennelly quits AFL

29/01/2009 08:25:18 PM Comments (0)

Few footballers quit the AFL to fulfil their childhood dreams but Tadhg Kennelly has never been your average sportsman.

The Irishman walked out on the final year of his deal with the Sydney Swans on Thursday to pursue his lifelong dream of emulating his late father Tim in winning an All-Ireland title for County Kerry.

On why he had to head home to play Gaelic football and pass up a salary of around $250,000 a year, Kennelly said: "I grew up idolising my father is the simple answer to that".

Kennelly, 27, had felt the pull from home growing stronger and stronger since his father's sudden passing in late 2005 and the Swans had extended his off-season breaks to keep him at the club.

A string of injuries in recent years convinced the fleet-footed backman the time had come to head back to the Emerald Isle and play alongside his brother Noel while he could still give a good account of himself.

Swans coach Paul Roos said Kennelly's decision to quit had come as a shock to nearly everyone at the club but that he understood his need to leave after a decade in Sydney.

Roos described Kennelly as an "icon" of the AFL club and put him alongside Jim Stynes as the two greatest Irishman to have played Australian Rules.

Kennelly said he had followed his heart and not his hip pocket in making the call to return to an amateur sport.

"It wasn't an easy thing with the credit crunch and everything that is happening around the world, it was not the smartest financial decision in the world," he said with a smile.

"It is very difficult but you try and follow what your heart says and that is what I have done.

"It doesn't matter, professional, amateur whatever the game was I have just followed my heart."

Kennelly has played 158 games for the Swans since his debut in 2001 and was a pivotal part in Sydney making the last six finals series in a row.

He quickly found his niche as a rebounding defender with his athleticism, natural speed and ability to make smart decisions under pressure vital in the club's drought-breaking title win in 2005.

Kennelly said it was hard to say goodbye to his teammates but not so the oval ball that had so troubled him after first coming to Sydney as a teenager.

He admitted it would take him a while to adjust back to the game of his youth.

"I cannot wait to get hold of a round ball (of Gaelic football) compared to that awful thing," he joked.

"When I first came over here that oval ball was just so hard to get used to at least the round ball bounces back up to you but it will be difficult, it has been 10 years."

His long-suffering mother was overjoyed at the news that her boy was heading home.

"She was pretty pumped but I don't think she will believe me until I actually arrive at the airport," he said.

And on the prospect of a possible return to the AFL after claiming an All-Ireland title, Kennelly wasn't prepared to completely rule it out.

"I am not closing the door on anything but right now I want to go home and play football and I have retired from the Swans and I have retired from AFL football," he said.

"No one can answer that question and I can't answer that question.

"I want to go home and that is the end of it really."

Just what his mum wanted to hear.

Kennelly expects plenty of his young countrymen to be heading in the opposite direction to fill up AFL playing rosters in the coming seasons.

Kennelly said the demand for talented Gaelic footballers would only increase in an expanded AFL competition of 18 teams by 2012.

"Without a doubt there are a lot of interest with two new clubs coming into the competition as well and clubs losing draft picks (because of draft concessions to new clubs)," said Kennelly.

"They are going to be looking for ready made talent and obviously Ireland has been a proven success at that and so more clubs are going to look for kids from Ireland.

"I will head back and be encouraging anyone who wants to come over here to give it a crack."

Swans coach Paul Roos said that Kennelly's successful career had opened up more doors for youngsters from the Emerald Isle.

"I think Tadhg has been largely responsible for a lot of them coming over because Tadhg has been a great ambassador for the game and well looked up to in Ireland and a lot of kids get in contact with him and speak to him," Roos said.

Roos also said the club would be keeping in touch with Kennelly for a potential scouting role down the track.

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