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by Lisa Albergo reporting for AFANA from Chicago

Irish recruit Ciarán Kilkenny had been training with the Hawthorn Hawks since October. However, as much as he enjoyed his time with the Hawks, he has decided to return home to his mates, the GAA and hurling. Kilkenny debuted with the Dublin team early last year before traveling to Australia. Dublin is currently favored to win the 2013 All-Ireland championship. Kilkenny returned to Ireland for the Christmas holidays and decided not to come back to Australia. While in Australia, he had received plenty of positive feedback from the likes of Tadhg Kennelly and Setanta O'hAilpin as well as recent Collingwood recruit Caolan Mooney.

In a statement, Kilkenny said "I have thoroughly enjoyed my experience in Australia and am extremely grateful to Hawthorn and ... to experience life as a professional athlete in a wonderful country. The professionalism of the club was exemplary and they always made me feel very welcome. However, seeing Australia and a different way of life, also served to bring home to me the things that make Ireland so special ... family and friends are important but I also came to really appreciate the things that make Ireland unique ... the people ... the way of life and ... the GAA. As much as I enjoyed the lifestyle of a professional Aussie Rules player and relished the challenge ... I realized that it would never matter as much to me as the sense of community and joy I get from ... playing alongside the people with whom I grew up and live ... success and realizing my potential as a hurler and footballer with my club and county will always be more important ... than any of the benefits ... from professional sport. It may seem like a short time to spend in Australia but I have always given absolute commitment to any team in which I was involved and I feel it would be unfair on both Hawthorn and myself to continue in a situation where I am not 100% committed and happy in myself ... although I enjoy the game of Australian Rules ... it could never replace the satisfaction I get from the round ball or a sliotar. Sport has always been something I did for enjoyment ... not something I can do merely because it’s my job. The passion I feel for hurling and football is not transferrable ... seeing my neighbors and team mates happy when we do well is reward enough. Going to ... Australia was never something I felt I had to do. I always said ... if I didn’t go I might have doubts or questions later on ... now I’m happy that that those doubts and questions will not arise."

Hawthorn lost one recruit, but has gained another in luring 17-year old New Zealander Shem Tatupu away from rugby to Aussie Rules. Although he is not eligible to join the list this year, Shem has agreed to a three year deal as an international rookie. At 6'4" and 231 pounds, the youngster is already an imposing figure. His father was also a star rugby player.

Graham Wright, the Hawks' recruiting and list manager, first saw the then 14-year old Tatupu in Fiji during a 2009 tournament. He played for New Zealand in the 2011 Oceania Championships, and also impressed playing for the South Pacific team in last year's NAB AFL Under-16 Championships in Sydney, where he was named his side's MVP.

Tatupu won't be alone at Hawthorn as the club has another former New Zealander on their list. Since 2009 Kurt Heatherley, a former basketballer, has been on an international scholarship with the club which is committed to drafting him as an international rookie at this year's draft. He has been boarding in Melbourne since he was 16 and trained once a week with the club in 2012, also playing with TAC team Sandringham. He will have a delayed start to 2013 due to hip surgery.

Tatupu will spend most of 2013 at home in Auckland finishing school. He will have a chance to travel to Melbourne during the school holidays and will also be able to travel to Europe with the AIS-AFL Academy team. He said the challenge of "trying something different" was behind his decision to try Aussie Rules and said he has already begun learning a few things. Working with Heatherley has been a great opportunity for him. He said Heatherly is "... one of my best mates and I look up to him". Of Hawthorn itself, he said, "I love all the guys here, they all make me feel welcome, and watching them train is inspiring."


Article last changed on Friday, February 01, 2013 - 8:23 PM EST

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