UCD and Westmeath footballer, Ray Connellan, pictured at the launch of the 2022 Electric Ireland Fitzgibbon, Sigerson and Higher Education GAA Championships.
UCD and Westmeath footballer, Ray Connellan, pictured at the launch of the 2022 Electric Ireland Fitzgibbon, Sigerson and Higher Education GAA Championships.

Connellan says Mark Keane will be 'a massive addition' for Cork


By John Harrington

Westmeath footballer, Ray Connellan, says Mark Keane will be a massive addition for Cork GAA whether he decides to play for the county footballers or hurlers.

News broke today that Keane won’t be returning to his AFL career with Collingwood and will instead stay at home in Ireland.

Connellan, who himself played in the AFL with St. Kilda and Essendon, is a friend of Keane’s and has no doubts that he can be a major asset for either the Cork hurlers or footballers this year, depending on who he pledges his allegiance to.

“Look it's massive,” said Connellan today at the launch of the Electric Ireland Higher Education Championships.

“I'm surprised to hear that. I thought Mark was enjoying it but at the same time I'm surprised but not surprised because I know Mark has been playing an awful lot of hurling and football when he got home.

“I was shocked with the amount of sport he was playing when he was home, he wasn't having an off-season at all. He was just hurling and football four times a week. So I think maybe the call of home has crept in. That's a massive addition for Cork in both codes no matter what he decides to do.

“He's a young guy but he's a huge man, he's a real athlete, he towers over me. He's fit and fast, and really aggressive. I think no matter what he comes home and does he should be a massive addition to whatever panel he gets involved in. So it's big news.”

Mark Keane of Cork celebrates after scoring his side's winning goal during the 2020 Munster GAA Football Senior Championship Semi-Final match between Cork and Kerry at Páirc Uí Chaoimh in Cork. 
Mark Keane of Cork celebrates after scoring his side's winning goal during the 2020 Munster GAA Football Senior Championship Semi-Final match between Cork and Kerry at Páirc Uí Chaoimh in Cork. 

Connellan called time on his own AFL career at the age of 24, and admits that left him playing catch-up in terms of having a career and life in Ireland when the returned home.

He’s only now in the final semester of a BA in Arts, English, and Geography in UCD, and is looking forward to making up for lost time when joints the work-force later this year.

“That's always been one of my irks with Australia and the timing of the move,” he said.

“I wasn't there long enough to earn money that's going to set you up for a great period of time. I'd enough to put myself through college and stuff here for a couple of years but if you're only going for two or three years you're not there long enough to really save up a fortune and also you haven't made it over there so you're kind of at square one a little bit.

“Unfortunately I had to go in and start college again from first year. So you're putting yourself behind the eight ball a little bit from that point of view.

“As much as I loved going over there there's certainly times where I'm like, 'Should I have just stayed put?' But you can't say no to the opportunity when it's there because you just never know how it's going to pan out.

“I've been working hard to try to get as high a result in my degree as possible and from there I can hopefully get something in sales or recruitment and get myself back earning good money again which would be lovely.”

Connellan will surely be an attractive candidate for prospective employers when he does finish his studies because he has earned national renown for being a powerful advocate for mental health.

His honesty about his own struggles in the past with mental health, both in interviews and through his contribution to the ‘I’m Fine’ documentary, has proven inspirational for others.

“It's certainly attracted a bit of talk, all positive which I'm very happy to say,” says Connellan.

“I haven't had any negative feedback at all. I was blown way with the number of messages I got off young men and parents of young men, which was quite the scary one. I got emails or messages at all hours of the night from parents in crisis who in those few hours have been dealing with someone in a suicidal state.

“And there's nowhere else to look, they just reach out to the first person they think of who has opened up about it. So to get messages like that is a bit jarring and a little bit scary at times.

“You reference them on to the appropriate authorities and the help they might need. But certainly I've noticed the number of young Gaelic footballers between the ages of 16-20 messaging me going, 'I've gone through the same thing' or 'I'm going through the same thing now' or 'It's nice that there's someone else out there who's just opened it up for me to talk about.'

"That was the point of the whole thing, it's something I'm comfortable talking about.

“I've said it before, it's easy for me to do it but it's impossible for someone else to do it. I think you've got some overriding obligation to be that voice for a fella that might not be comfortable enough at this time to share his experience.”