Conor Sweeney hopes to make his mark in Australia
By John Harrington
Tipperary star Conor Sweeney looks like he has the key attributes needed to be a good source of scores for the Ireland International Rules team.
Team manager Joe Kernan has made it clear the Irish strategy will be to direct accurate kick-passes into their inside forwards who will then be expected to claim marks and kick overs.
Standing 6’ 3’’ inches tall, Sweeney’s ball-winning ability is one of his greatest strengths, and he’s also proven himself to be a very reliable free-taker for the Premier County so he ticks two very important boxes.
He’s hopeful his skill-set will complement the Irish game-plan but admits there are other aspects of the compromise code that will take some getting used to.
“I suppose there are pros and cons to the Compromise Rules, but definitely one of the positives is that if you can get out in front and you get a half-decent ball at all and you win it then it's like having a free,” Sweeney told GAA.ie.
“And hopefully I'll try to stay close to the 'D' and my free-kicks or marks won't be too far out.
“One of the hard things though is trying to not bring the ball into the contact, because if you do then it's a turnover straight away. It's just all about getting your head around the rules I suppose.
“You'd be chatting to the likes of Eoin Cadogan who has been on a couple of the series and knows the craic. He'd be giving you tips about what to do.
“Sometimes if there's a ball coming to you, you're better off playing it to your feet or letting it run past you if there's a defender up your backside, that kind of way, little things like that, that would keep you on your toes.”
A Tipperary man making the grade for an Ireland International Rules squad might have been a novelty in the not too distant past, but it was no surprise that Joe Kernan saw fit to include Sweeney in his plans.
He’s been one of the stars of a Tipp side that has made major strides forward in recent years, including reaching the 2016 All-Ireland semi-final, and admits the county team’s progress has pushed him to up his game.
“It probably has helped me from a confidence point of view and stuff like that, yeah, and I'm probably getting more out of myself now than I was a few years ago,” says Sweeney.
“It definitely all helps, 100 per cent. The challenge now is to get back to that level again.”
Promotion to Division Two of the Allianz Football League was another important step forward for Tipp in 2017.
Their Championship run ended in defeat to Armagh in Round Three of the All-Ireland Qualifiers, and Sweeney believes lessons have been learned from the injury woes that plagued them for much of the season.
“The League is starting earlier this year so it's even more important now to get a very good pre-season in,” he says.
“I think that might have contributed to our injuries last year, that we didn't get the pre-season that we felt we needed and as a result we picked up a few knocks and things.
“The first eight weeks is very important and we're up in Division Two where there is no easy game.
“We've Cork away in the first game and Roscommon at home in the second one, so those are two massive games to be looking forward to.
“These are the games you want to be playing though, you want to be up there in Division Two and maybe even losing to some of these teams and learning rather than being down in Division Three or Four and picking up your handy win.
“It's definitely a challenge, but one we're 100 per cent looking forward to.”
Tipperary will be boosted next year by the return to the fold of midfield colossus Steven O’Brien, who has committed to the footballers again after two years on the Tipp hurling panel.
“It's an incredible boost,” says Sweeney. “He's an unbelievable footballer, first and foremost. The second thing is that he's a massive man, so he'll be a big presence around the middle or wherever Liam decides to play him.
“Look, it's an extra bit of competition for the other lads. If Steven puts in the hard work he'll make the team no problem.
“I'm really looking forward to getting back playing with him.”