Hawthorn Football Club’s Irish recruit Conor Nash came to Australia for an adventure, he says, and took it one step further by visiting Katherine last week.
Along with teammates, Jarman Impey and Matthew Walker, the players attended school events and football games to inspire Katherine’s youth to keep up the sport, attend class and feel confident to express emotions.
Hailing from a countryside town in Ireland, the NT outback is worlds apart from his home.
“I could have stayed in Ireland and played for the Leinster Rugby team (one of the four professional teams in Ireland), but these opportunities don’t come around too often,” he said on Saturday.
He had just come off the field at Nitmiluk Oval, running water and voicing encouragement to the U18 girls Big River Hawks team who were up against Darwin team the Buffaloes (coming first on the leader board).
The Hawthorn Football Club spotted him playing when he was just 15 years-old, he said, and after a couple of training trips to Australia, he was offered a contract, which he gladly signed.
“Living in Melbourne has been great, there are so many Irish people around I felt right at home. So when this opportunity came up to come to the Australian countryside, I was 100 per cent in.
“I hadn’t been before and it has been a great cultural experience, so different from anywhere I have seen.”
He said he hadn’t been to a remote community before and a visit to Beswick was “a bit of an eye opener.”
“In comparison to back home where it’s five degrees and below, and green and built up, it was very different.
“We drove in and saw a lot of people walking without shoes, there’s no roads, it was really raw.
“That hit me a lot. There is obviously a bit of poverty.
“They were so excited to see us and that was really special to see.”
Each year Hawthorn players visit Katherine - last year it was Cyril Rioli, a 185-gamer, and a favourite of AFL fans in the NT.
The yearly visit, however, is more than just an opportunity for young avid players to meet the stars.
“Footy is like the currency,” Nash said.
“For some of the kids here, sport, their team is the strongest bond they have and if we can use our profile to get them chatting or to school, that is a big thing.
“If it makes a difference to one or two kids - maybe a kid starts reading a book or misses less school.
“We know we can’t make a difference all at once. It will happen over time.”
The players even sat down with the U18 boys and girls Big River Hawks teams to chat about all things mental health.
“A few of them really opened up and team mates learned about what was going on in each other’s lives,” he said.
“We had a chat about our stuff too, which helped.
“It was great, some of them made some special bonds.
“I wasn’t across some of the issues up here like school attendance, and like everywhere I guess, mental health issues.”
Having spent the past couple of days attending a round of events here in town, running drills and participating in AFL games, he was beginning to get a sense of the level of skill.
“The talent is unbelievable,” he said.
“It is real raw footy, real natural.
“They just go out and play.”
Conor Nash said while he misses home and often can’t attend family events he hopes to stay in Australia for as long as possible.
“Hopefully I can keep getting contacts and keep playing footy.”
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