ESSENDON and Richmond are in a two-way race for the pick of this year's Irish crop.

Ross McQuillan has emerged as the most coveted Irishman from the 2018 AFL Europe Combine, and joined countrymen Ronan Devereux, Peadar Mogan and Luke Towey in trialling with clubs in April.

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The 20-year-old is a good athlete, clocked a blistering 2.77sec in winning the 20m sprint at the combine, thrives on physicality and is already showing promise with his kicking on both sides.

At 186cm, McQuillan projects as a utility at AFL level, but his combination of speed, aggression and neat foot skills is proving an attractive proposition.

THE RUN HOME Where will your club finish? understands both the Bombers and Tigers are also interested in Towey, who boasts similar physical traits and strengths to McQuillan.

Both players have already been exposed to senior Gaelic football ranks, a rarity among Ireland's AFL prospects in the past.

However, McQuillan is the primary target and certain to be at one of those two clubs next season, with a decision imminent.

The County Armagh product would fit in well at Tullamarine, where fellow Irishman and dashing defender Conor McKenna has blossomed into one of Essendon's most important players.

McKenna leads the AFL in running bounces this year and is averaging career highs in disposals (19.9), rebound 50s (4.6) and metres gained (415.4).

Richmond, on the other hand, has had limited success in this space, with Jamie O'Reilly (four games) and John Heslin (zero) both spending time on the Tigers' list.

There is already a record 14 Irishmen in the AFL in 2019, with the likelihood that will increase next year.