IT IS 40 years since the first Irishman signed to begin football's 'Irish Experiment'.
To mark that time, AFL talent ambassador Kevin Sheehan has selected his best ever team across that period of Irish imports to the Australian game.
There are 14 Irishmen in the AFL in 2021, with Greater Western Sydney's Callum Brown last week playing his first game as a starting 22 member and booting two goals in the Giants' win over Geelong.
Sheehan selected Melbourne great Jimmy Stynes as his side's skipper, with Sydney premiership player Tadhg Kennelly its vice-captain.
>> SCROLL DOWN TO SEE SHIFTER'S FULL TEAM
"Stynes still holds the record for the most consecutive games (244 matches) in VFL/AFL history. He won the Brownlow Medal in 1991, was twice an All Australian and won Melbourne’s best and fairest on four occasions. He represented Victoria in State of Origin Football as well as both Australia and Ireland in International Rules Football," Sheehan said.
"His story is arguably one of the greatest success stories of a player in AFL history after initially being sent to Prahran in the VFA to learn the game.
"Tadhg Kennelly has been the only player in history to win an AFL premiership medal (Sydney Swans in 2005) and a senior All Ireland Championship medal (Kerry in 2009). Kennelly also played for Ireland on 12 occasions in International Rules Football winning Ireland’s best player award in 2011 as well as his 197 matches for the Swans."
With it being 40 years since Irish pioneer Sean Wight became the first player from Ireland to sign with a VFL/AFL club when he joined Melbourne, clubs have continued to recruit talented players from across the world.
Lithuanian born Kerryman Deividas Uosis became the 64th Irishman to join the AFL in that time when he signed for Brisbane ahead of the 2021 season. There were 18 Irish women who played in the AFLW competition in 2020 including trailblazer Cora Staunton from County Mayo.
Sheehan has backed clubs to continue to look abroad to search for talents.
"Whilst Jimmy Stynes became a champion of the game, the likes of Sean Wight, Tadhg Kennelly, Pearce Hanley and Zach Tuohy as well as the emerging Mark O’Connor have become genuine stars adding to the rich history of Irish/Australian football and cultural interaction," he said.
"Once the dust settles, post COVID-19, I am sure a handful of Irish men and women each year will continue to follow in the not often travelled path established by Stynes and Cora Staunton in search of unique success in a sport they would not have even heard of, nor dreamt of playing in their childhood."
KEVIN SHEEHAN'S IRELAND AFL ALL-STARS
B: Colin O'Riordan (Tipperary/Sydney, 26 games), Sean Wight (Kerry/Melbourne, 150 games), Mark O'Connor (Kerry/Geelong, 62 games)
HB: Conor McKenna (Tyrone/Essendon, 79 games), Darragh Joyce (Kilkenny/St Kilda, 9 games), Marty Clarke (Down/Collingwood, 73 games)
C: James Madden (Dublin/Brisbane, 9 games), Tadhg Kennelly (Kerry/Sydney, 197 games), Zach Tuohy (Laois/Carlton/Geelong, 224 games)
HF: Ciaran Byrne (Louth/Carlton, 22 games), Setanta O'hAilpin (Cork/Carlton/GWS, 88 games), Colm Begley (Laois/Brisbane/St Kilda, 30 games)
F: Caolan Mooney (Down/Collingwood, 6 games), Conor Nash (Meath/Hawthorn, 27 games), Anthony Tohill (Derry/Melbourne, 0 games)
R: Jimmy Stynes (Dublin/Melbourne, 264 games), Pearce Hanley (Mayo/Brisbane/Gold Coast, 169 games), Dermot McNicholl (Derry/St Kilda, 3 games)
I/C: Conor Glass (Derry/Hawthorn, 21 games), Mark Keane (Cork/Collingwood, 5 games), Ciaran Sheehan (Cork/Carlton, 4 games), Tommy Walsh (Kerry/St Kilda/Sydney, 5 games), Michael Quinn (Longford/Essendon, 8 games), Anton Tohill (Derry/Collingwood, 1 game), Callum Brown (Derry/GWS, 2 games)
Captain: Jimmy Stynes
Vice-captain: Tadhg Kennelly