Hodge and Connellan’s Irish connection

As Melbourne prepares to host the second Test of the Mitsubishi Estate Ireland Series between Australia and Ireland, Melbourne Rebels and Qantas Wallabies back Reece Hodge was joined at Gosch’s Paddock by Irish-AFL players Ray Connellan of St Kilda and Connor Glass of Hawthorn.

Initially just a cross-promotional activity to advertise Melbourne’s fascination with AFL football and the much-anticipated Test, it was uncovered that this Test series will have a more personal meaning for Connellan.

Both Connellan and Irish centre, Robbie Henshaw – who is likely to line up opposite Hodge at any stage this series – grew up together in the close-knit Irish town of Athlone.

The St Kilda international rookie is looking forward to seeing his best mate live in Melbourne for the second Test.

“Our families are still very close,” Connellan said.

“His parents are going to arrive out here next week and I’ll follow them out. When I have the bye week, I’ll probably head up to Sydney to catch up with him and his family and chill with them for the week after”.

Before Henshaw became a dominant centre in International Rugby, he enjoyed a junior career in the traditional Irish sport of Gaelic with Connellan.

However, before Connellan and Henshaw played together, they were originally on-field enemies.

“Growing up, we actually initially played on opposing Gaelic teams,” Connellan said.

“In my town there’s two teams, and they have a pretty big rivalry, so I was on one and he was on the other.

“But then, with a lot of his schoolmates playing in my team, he got the transfer across.

“So there was a bit of arguments about that in his club, but he came across and joined us for a couple of years before he really got into rugby full on.”

Being on opposite sides of the world and with one playing Australia’s Indigenous sport, means that chances to for both Irishmen to see each other are few and far between.

That’s why Connellan says it was a joy when Henshaw was selected to tour New Zealand with the British and Irish Lions squad.

“Luckily he got picked for the Lions tour, so I went to New Zealand last year,” Connellan said.

“Obviously with me here, I don’t get to catch up with my mates too much back home.

“So I had a four-day break, and my sister lives in New Zealand as well, so I was able to take a quick trip down there to Dunedin and watch them against the Highlanders and it was actually a pretty good weekend.”

Hawthorn’s Irish recruit Glass will also watch this series with interest too, being a rugby fan himself.

Glass says that his love for rugby comes from being ‘encouraged’ to watch Melbourne Rebels games by his adopted family.

“I didn’t have the most decorated career in rugby. I played for three or four years, so I love watching the sport, and I watch it when I can,” Glass said.

“I stay with a host family, James and Cathy King. James was a rugby player in Sydney, so he goes off when he’s watching the Rebels games.

“When he’s watching the game, then I have to watch it as well.”

Even though Hodge had the opportunity to quiz Connellan about any particular tips to face his opposite number, Henshaw, Connellan remained tight lipped.

“Not too much (whether Connellan gave him any advice),” Hodge said ahead of the First Test in Brisbane.

“I think Robbie’s picked up an injury to his knee so he’s saying that he might
be right for test two or three but he’s actually just getting a free holiday to Australia!”

One thing for certain though is the unquestionable passion of the Irish fans, who will arrive in droves to support their nation at every match.

“It’ll be good, the Irish are pretty good to get behind a sport,” Glass said.

“So wherever there’s an event on they get around it.”