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Irishman dons the sash

Irishman Ray Connellan has joined the VFL Bombers after two years on St Kilda's AFL list.
That cemented it in my mind that, look, you're good enough to be here. Do everything you can to get to another club and if it happens, you've now got this unbelievable burn inside you to make it work, that you never even had before.
Ray Connellan

The VFL Bombers have added fresh speed and enthusiasm to its side with exciting former St Kilda forward Ray Connellan joining the squad for the 2019 season.

The Irishman became a Saint as a Category B International Rookie ahead of the 2017 season and put together an impressive VFL campaign last year, but he was unable to break through for a senior debut and was subsequently delisted.

Connellan booted 19 goals from 17 games in 2018, kicking multiple goals on five occasions and displaying plenty of dash across the forward line as he continued to develop his footballing craft.

The speedster was named among the side’s best players twice; once for his 17-disposal, two-goal performance against Richmond, and also for his outstanding effort against Werribee where he booted three goals from 16 disposals (all effective).

Connellan celebrates after booting a goal for the Zebras in 2017. (Image: AFL Media)

The disappointing delisting came as a flattening surprise to Connellan given his commitment to the club and rapid development in a sport so foreign to him.

“It’s a pretty dark experience to have to go through when you’re so far away from home. I remember just leaving the club after, drove home and was back in the apartment by myself,” Connellan told Irish news outlet The 42.

“It was probably as dark a day as I’ve had now for a while.

“I was thinking that it was all done, it was over and I just had to get used to whatever happened next. It’s such an unknown, you don’t know what lies ahead for you.”

But Connellan wasn’t ready to give up his dreams, determined to forge a new path in Australia.

"I'm a pretty realistic person. I think if I was crap at this sport and I knew I wasn't good enough to play AFL football, I'd happily admit that,” Connellan told  after his meeting with the Saints in September.

“There's absolutely no shame saying you're not good at a sport you've never played before.

"I've asked coaches (and) I've asked players to be honest with me and tell me if I'm no good … and I'll be good at Gaelic football and I'll live a comfortable life at home.

"But everyone that I spoke to, even the reaction of fellow players, they were shocked that I didn't get another year at it.

"That cemented it in my mind that, look, you're good enough to be here. Do everything you can to get to another club and if it happens, you've now got this unbelievable burn inside you to make it work, that you never even had before."

Connellan grew up in Athlone – which lies 114km west of Dublin – and before arriving in Melbourne to pursue an AFL career he had played Gaelic football at a high level with native county Westmeath.

After sadly missing out in the post-season drafts last year, he had returned to his homeland, packing up his life in Australia with what seemed like only a dead end ahead of him in Melbourne.

But the tight-knit community of Irish footballers in the AFL proved vital for him, with senior Bomber and close friend Conor McKenna playing an important role in his second chance at an Australian football career.

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McKenna coincidentally became the middle man between Essendon and the former Saint as VFL football operations manager Ash Brown presented Connellan with the opportunity to come to The Hangar.

“I was on a night out with Conor McKenna in Dublin. No one in Australia knew we were together and he just got a message asking did he know Ray Connellan,” he told The 42.

“The two of us were laughing and it was actually someone from the VFL program in Essendon. He was asking why I was let go from St Kilda.

“Conor said it was no reason really, I was just let go. They said if he wanted to get in touch and (asked if I) was interested in playing VFL again.

“We exchanged details and I got in touch with Ashley Brown, the head of the VFL program there.

“I said I was willing to give it another shot.”

With a 2.78 second 20m sprint in his arsenal (just 0.03 seconds off draft record-holder Joel Wilkinson), Connellan could prove to be an important addition to the side with dasher Nick Hind departing the Bombers for his own AFL opportunity at Moorabbin.

Driven to grasp the new chance with both hands and with plenty of improvement yet to come, it will be exciting to see what Connellan is capable of in the red and black this year.