Irish geographer finds football fame

August 10, 2001

Australian sport's newest and unlikeliest star is an Irishman who is studying at the University of New South Wales.

Tadhg Kennelly, 20, from Listowel, County Kerry, had never seen a game of Australian football, much less played one, until he came to Sydney 18 months ago.

But he has progressed so rapidly in the game that he made his first-grade debut for the Sydney Swans last month. Australian football's greatest Irish player, Jim Stynes - a winner of the Brownlow medal awarded each season to the best and fairest player in the Australian Football League (AFL) - took three years to make his senior debut.

Mr Kennelly is combining his professional football career with a geography degree at UNSW. He was a full-time student last year, while playing in the junior ranks, but has switched to a part-time course since joining the Swans AFL squad this year. He expects to take four-and-a-half years to complete his degree.

Ironically, he has found that the football season, running from March to September, is the best time for studying. "During the season we train once a day, which leaves the rest of the time available. In the pre-season it is twice a day, so I try to get most work done during the season."

His growing fame comes in useful: "If I need to miss something, it helps that the lecturers know why I am asking," he said.

He is on a scholarship funded by the Swans, who spotted him playing in an under-17 combined rules international, which matched Irish gaelic footballers with the AFL's best youngsters.

He had been destined for a degree at either Limerick University or University College Cork and a place in the Kerry senior gaelic team, his ambition since childhood, before he was spotted by the Australians. Before that, he had turned down an offer to sign for Blackburn Rovers football club and had won national athletics titles.

To these outstanding sporting talents, he has added the gift of timing. His debut, against 16-time champions Carlton, maximised publicity at home by coinciding with the visit to Australia of a large Irish press contingent following the British and Irish Lions rugby tour.

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