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WhatsApp group keeping Irish contingent close

Panache from Nash to kick his first Hawthorn second-gamer Conor Nash steps and celebrates his first goal at AFL level

THE AFL'S Irish playing crew has its own WhatsApp group that blurs club lines and aims to ward off homesickness.

When they get together – most often at a St Kilda hot spot – they morph into any other bunch of 20-something-year-old Irishmen catching up in a foreign land.

The most recent AFL debutant among them, Hawthorn's Conor Nash, rarely misses these near-weekly outings.

Nash, 20, is more fortunate than most, given he arrived in Melbourne only months after countryman Conor Glass started at the Hawks.

They live together in Hawthorn with "Aussie parents" Cathy and Jim King, who have hosted Hawks players since 2005, and have become close friends.

The group of Victorian-based Irishmen seldom discuss their AFL pursuits, with their Gaelic football allegiances more commonly on the agenda.

If they're not in St Kilda, they might be chewing the fat over a game of cards at one another's home.

There's Conor McKenna at Essendon, Carlton's Ciaran Byrne and Cillian McDaid, St Kilda pair Ray Connellan and Darragh Joyce, and Zach Tuohy and Mark O'Connor at Geelong.

The rest are interstate – Gold Coast's Pearce Hanley and Sydney's Colin O'Riordan – while Hanley's younger brother, Cian, quit Brisbane in February for personal reasons.

Another Irishman, James Madden, is a confirmed addition to the Lions' den for next year.

"We catch up pretty much once a week and it's whoever's about. We just send a text in to WhatsApp to see who's about for dinner or something like that," Nash told AFL.com.au.

"We get on very well together and if there's any homesickness with some of the boys – it cures it. It helps a lot. It's not a thing that's present the whole time for me.

"It's maybe just when occasions are happening at home, like birthdays, when you might get a bit upset, but that's usually when you flick a text to the boys."

Tuohy and O'Connor were in the opposing Cats side when Nash made his AFL debut a fortnight ago, in front of his parents Bernadette and Tony, siblings Edward and Lauren, and almost 60,000 fans at the MCG.

Tony took the first call from Hawthorn's now national recruiting manager Mark McKenzie back in 2014, but hung up the phone thinking it was a joke. They reconnected properly weeks later.

Glass and Nash played in the AFL together for the first time last weekend.

"It was very special in the end," Nash said of his debut.

"My family was down for a holiday for a few weeks and were just about to go home before that game against Geelong, and 'Clarko' (coach Alastair Clarkson) rang to say, 'Could they delay their flights?'.

"The car erupted at that moment and to get out there on the 'G was something special, in such a big game as well … I loved every minute of it and hopefully I can keep going."

Nash, who is studying commerce after previously considering medical science, is looking forward to returning to Ireland for an off-season break.

This time, he promises not to relent to peer pressure and play for his local Gaelic football team, Simonstown Gaels.

The Hawks had a rare September holiday last year and Nash made a surprise appearance for Simonstown – without his AFL club's knowledge – as a first-half substitute in its Meath Senior Football Championship quarter-final.

"Going home, I suppose, you can get caught up in a lot of things in the local community and people asking you to play who are not really thinking of your best interests," Nash said.

"I got caught up in that a little bit. I played only half a game of football, which wasn't my wisest decision, but I came back here and we had a chat about it and dusted it over."

 

Hawthorn will be part of this year's finals series and the timing of Nash's senior promotion, particularly off his impressive showing against St Kilda last week, could see him retain his spot.

The challenge for him is that James Sicily, James Frawley, Jon Ceglar, Daniel Howe and maybe Grant Birchall are set to return for the Hawks.

Nash's 197cm frame makes him a point of difference to the typical Irish AFL export, most of whom are suited to half-back – think Tuohy, Hanley, McKenna, Tadhg Kennelly and now Madden.

He, too, started in defence, but in a key-position role, before graduating to the forward line in 2018.

Nash is far from the finished product – he still tends to pull his set shots to the left, a la the Gaelic style – but his tackling from his rugby background has translated, and he has a knack for running to the right spots.

There's enough there for Hawthorn to be excited about what the athletic forward could become, with the Hawks locking him in for two more seasons this week.

"It's massive to get that off your shoulders and be able to just attack the year ahead," Nash said of his new contract.

"We'll see out this year firstly and go as far as we can, but I'm looking forward to the next few years as well."