Westmeath footballers could be in line for a big boost after Ray Connellan announced he was leaving Aussie Rules to move back to Ireland.
The 24-year-old Athlone native made his debut for the Lake County in 2014 before joining Melbourne outfit St Kilda on a rookie AFL contract in 2016.
Despite an impressive campaign in the VFL (second tier/reserve league) last year Connellan was released in September. He joined Essendon's VFL side ahead of the 2019 campaign but, with a senior AFL debut proving elusive, he has now decided to bring his time in Australia to and end.
"One of the nicest environments I've ever played football in! Thank you everyone at @essendonvfl. Not an easy decision for me to make but I felt it was the right time. My Aussie Rules Journey is over but I've loved every minute! What a game," Connellan said on Twitter.
One of the nicest environments I’ve ever played football in! Thank you everyone at @essendonvfl. Not an easy decision for me to make but I felt it was the right time. My Aussie Rules Journey is over but I’ve loved every minute! What a game! https://t.co/877g3Mb1u1— Ray Connellan (@ConnellanRay) June 17, 2019
Essedon coach Dan Jordan paid tribute to Connellan: "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.
"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."
In addition to the speed mentioned by Jordan, Connellan's 6'3 stature made him a valuable asset at midfield or half-forward for Westmeath and manager Jack Cooney will no doubt be hopeful he will be available for the county this summer.
Westmeath are next in action against Limerick in round 2 of the qualifiers this Saturday evening at Cusack Park, Mullingar.