The difficulties of playing VFL football away from home have led Ray Connellan to the decision to return to Ireland, giving up his spot on Essendon VFL’s list. 

The 24-year-old spent two seasons with St Kilda, booting 19 goals from 17 VFL games in 2018 with his dash on full display, but was unable to break through for a senior debut. 

Subsequently delisted from the Saints, Connellan was given the opportunity to continue playing state league football in 2019 when he arrived at The Hangar.

Connellan managed four matches for the VFL Dons this season, averaging 15.3 disposals and 4.8 marks.

Ultimately, his decision to depart also means he relinquishes his dream of a second chance at AFL level.

VFL coach Dan Jordan said he would be greatly missed by the playing group and staff, but understood his decision and wished him nothing but the best.

“In the short time Ray was part of our program he was a great guy and fun to be around, but also set some really good standards with his hard work on the track,” Jordan said.

“He’s a lightning-quick, really exciting player and hadn’t played a lot of back or wing in the last couple of years at St Kilda so we wanted to give him that opportunity and watch him grow.

“He was getting to a nice level and then had his hamstring (injury) which forced him out for four or five weeks. He came back for the last couple of games and was just starting to find his feet again but clearly mentally his heart was somewhere else.

“Having said that we all saw a glimpse of what he can bring and the attributes that he has. He’s a phenomenal athlete and we wish him all the best.”

Connellan will play Gaelic football in Ireland while focusing on his studies and spending time with his family.

“We fully support Ray’s decision to return to Ireland to be with his family at home, and wish him all the best for his future endeavours,” head of football operations (AFL and VFL) Matt O’Hanlon said.

“We thank him for his contribution to the Essendon Football Club.” 

The club will seek to replace his spot in the coming weeks.

Brooke Varney is in the final year of her Bachelor of Communications (Journalism) degree at RMIT University. As part of their strategic partnership, Essendon Football Club and RMIT University are committed to providing opportunities for students, staff, players and the wider community.