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Homework pays off for Geelong's new Irishman

Stefan Okunbor at last year's NAB AFL Draft Combine in Melbourne - AFL,Geelong Cats
Stefan Okunbor at last year's NAB AFL Draft Combine in Melbourne

STEFAN Okunbor admits he got a few strange looks.

As an Irish Gaelic prodigy arriving at GMHBA Stadium from the other side of the world, the 20-year-old wasn't meant to know the ins and outs of Geelong's entire playing list.

However, it's that level of enthusiasm that has Cats officials quietly confident they may have unearthed another gem to follow in the footsteps of countrymen Zach Tuohy and Mark O'Connor.

"I was given the player profiles, so I had no excuse to not know their names," Okunbor said after his first month in Australia.

"I think a few of the guys were a bit weirded out that I was saying their names before they introduced themselves.

I got the player profiles, I've been in the loop for two years, so I've had no excuse."

It's been a rollercoaster two years for the athletic Kerryman.

After edging out more than 20 fellow Irish hopefuls at the AFL Europe Talent Combine in November 2016, Okunbor joined the NAB AFL Academy trip in early 2017 in the US.

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Mixing with Academy stars such as Jaidyn Stephenson, Jack Higgins, Paddy Dow and Cameron Rayner only fueled his dream to play AFL.

Continuing his engineering studies while starring at minor level, he joined countryman Cillian McDaid in Melbourne late last year, trying to impress AFL talent scouts.

However, while McDaid landed a deal at Carlton (he has since quit AFL to return to Ireland), Okunbor was forced to go home with a level of interest from clubs, but no signature on paper.

"It was a blessing in disguise not being picked up last year," Okunbor said.

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"It was a bit disappointing (at the time) but I got a year to mature. For me, going home, working on my craft and my game back home stood out to me."

Constant dialogue with Geelong recruiter Troy Selwood throughout 2018 ensured he remained in the Cats' thoughts, before getting the call to pack his bags after a year in which he was named Munster U-20 Player of the Year.

And while he didn't spend much time on his kicking to "avoid picking up bad habits," Okunbor will get first-hand experience with Tuohy, one of the competition's best by foot.

"He's really concentrating on my kicking technique," Okunbor said.

"He's injured at the moment and he'd love to do more but once he's back we'll do a bit more movement.

"We're going to be going through some footage inside to see my body positioning and all of that."

Much like fellow first-year recruits, Okunbor is yet to progress to full training, continuing to build his running capacity while honing his skills with assistant and VFL coach Shane O'Bree.