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Mullin reverse typifies why top GAA counties can hold onto stars despite lure of AFL

The news that Oisin Mullin had changed his mind about joining the AFL’s Geelong Cats was welcomed with joy in Mayo.
It had been a year since Tyrone had defeated Dublin in the All-Ireland final. Mayo will be in the mix again this season thanks to Mullin’s decision and Cillian O’Connor’s expected return from an Achilles injury.

After signing a two-year contract and receiving the number 34 jersey, turning down a professional sports career was not taken lightly.

He’d clearly pondered his choice for some time. Mullin’s intention to move to Australia within a week of signing with Geelong had been questioned.

He was evasive about the move when he was voted Young Footballer of the Year again in December. James Horan said earlier this month he was still talking to his family.

The Victoria club insisted on the signing until the weekend. Mullin was supposed to fly out a week ago, but a positive Covid test caused a delay.

A statement from Mayo GAA claimed the defender wants to evaluate all aspects of the potential relocation.

It was a tempting offer. For a 21-year-old, the chance to work in sports, enjoy the sun, and see the world was irresistible.

Geelong are a reliable and well-run team in the AFL. Countrymen Zach Tuohy and Mark O’Connor were already at the club to aid. Rachel Kearns, from Mayo, is on their female team.

There are no guarantees with any Irish recruit to the AFL.

Pearce Hanley left Mayo as a teenager and made a name for himself in the AFL. Many more failed to make it, or settled, Down Under.

He could have followed in Hanley or Tuohy’s footsteps. He may have been injured, homesick, or simply unable to adapt.
But Mullin seemed to have the mental and physical tools to succeed.

His athleticism and achievements in Gaelic football since 2020 may have gotten him into their senior team this season.

“He’s a top 5% athlete,” Andy Moran stated about Mullin on Off The Ball’s Football Podcast in November.

“Imagine him in a vest, pink boots, and a ponytail.

“If you’re Mayo, you get three or four of these a decade, and he’s one of them.”

And that’s why his decision to stay is so significant for Mayo and Kilmaine. He’s a gifted ball carrier who can shut down his man and cause havoc.

It’s the latest GAA player to leave the AFL. Mark Keane had only recently announced he was leaving Collingwood to join the Cork hurlers.

Stefan Okunbor left Geelong in September after three years and joined Kerry this month. Former Essendon players Conor McKenna and Cathal McShane were on Tyrone’s All-Ireland winning side last year.

The AFL had a record 17 Irish players that year. The next season’s number is 11. Kerry, Mayo, and Tyrone have done everything possible to preserve valuable talent at home.

While Kerry have lost O’Connor and Uosis, the prospect of winning the Sam Maguire tends to keep quality players at home.

After his successful minor campaign, David Clifford’s refusal of Australian offers was welcomed throughout the Kingdom.

Dublin has been spared. They lost James Madden to the Brisbane Lions in 2018, and other stars have declined offers.

The likes of Ciaran Kilkenny left Hawthorn after four months in 2011 and Tadhg Kennelly approached Brian Fenton about trials in 2015, but he didn’t follow through.
AFL teams may have approached other Sky Blues, but the tug of home was plainly too strong.

With Conor Nash (Hawthorn) and Cian McBride (Hawthorn), remaining home is difficult to sell (Essendon).

The Glen and Derry have grown closer since Conor Glass returned in late 2020.

Anton Tohill (Derry) and Luke Towey (Sligo) have also returned in the last year, while Fionn O’Hara (Westmeath) has gone the other way.

The AFL will keep appealing for Irish talent, but with counties better organised and supported than ever, they are preaching the benefits of staying home.

The finest counties might provide enticing stay packages with scholarships, sponsorships, and job possibilities.

Of course, Mullin is still young enough to play in the AFL in a few years. Geelong will likely keep in touch and keep the door open in case he changes his mind.

But it appears the two-time YFY winner has decided. His return to Mayo training this week will boost the Westerners’ confidence.

And the idea of seeing him grace MacHale Park and Croke Park over the next decade excites GAA fans across.