As Collingwood’s Mason Cox looks back on a stand-out 2018 campaign, the Texas-born 27-year old is leading the way for the growing number of overseas players currently impressing in the AFL. Cox is just one of a wave of players who have picked up the game later in life before managing to establish a professional career in the AFL. The American only picked up a football – in the Australian sense of the word – four years ago, and Cox is now one of the ‘Pies most important players, playing a crucial role in the club’s third-place finish in the AFL ladder.
So, let’s take a closer look at some of those overseas players currently doing the business in the AFL.
One area of the world that has been particularly fruitful for the AFL has been Ireland, whose national game of Gaelic football bears more than a few resemblances to Australian Rules football. Nash is one of a number of Irish and Northern Irish players who have made the move Down Under to play in the AFL, and the Hawthorn man may well possibly the most talented one for a while. Having made his debut for the club only a matter of weeks ago, the Northern Irishman was recently handed a new two-year contract by the Hawks. While Nash won’t ever make the sort of money as the Jordan Spieths, Paul Pogbas or other incredibly well paid young sports stars from around the world, his new deal does make him one of the better-paid players under the age of 21 in the league, proving the club clearly view the youngster as a player with a big future.
Perhaps the best player not born in Australia currently playing in the AFL is North Melbourne’s Sudanese star Majak Daw. Having played as a forward, a ruckman and even a midfielder, Daw has taken his time to establish himself as a regular member of the Kangaroos’ starting line-up. On the back of a very promising 2018, albeit one in which North Melbourne failed to reach the end-of-season finals, Daw will be hoping to have done enough to prove to the Kangaroos management that he is deserving of a regular place in the team next season. At 27, the 195cm defender has all the attributes you’d want, and he’s now able to look back at yet another year of experience that will only help him improve as a player.
The second Northern Irishman on our list, Conor McKenna, has more experience than his compatriot Conor Nash since making his debut in 2015 for the Essendon Bombers against Richmond, in which he kicked a goal with his first touch of the ball. In the three proceeding years, McKenna has gone on to cement his place in this Bombers squad as an energetic half-back flank. Having signed a four-year deal last year, it’s obvious Essendon view the 22-year old as an important part of their future plans. The task for McKenna now will be to establish himself an ever-present part of this starting line-up moving forward. As long as he continues to chip in with goals and assists, both of which he achieved career highs in last season, the Bombers will continue to give him chances to prove himself.