Madden is on the up Down Under

By Hayden Moore

FROM one ball to another, the move from playing Gaelic football to Aussie Rules has become a storied part of sporting culture in Ireland and former Dublin prospect James Madden is one who has been pursuing that professional dream Down Under.

The Knocklyon native has been fully focused on hitting the ground running in the Australian Football League (AFL) this season and is deep into an intense pre-season regime ahead of the start of the campaign in March.

James Madden Brisbane Lions Australian Rules

James Madden from Knocklyon in training with Australian Rules side Brisbane Lions

After signing an initial two-season deal with Brisbane Lions that would cover 2019 and ’20, Madden was awarded a contract extension that keeps him in Australia until the end of next year.

In his first full season last year, Madden played a role in the Lions’ North East AFL (NEAFL) team that remained unbeaten for the whole season.

The Brisbane Lions operate as one squad and break out into a first team, who play in the AFL, and second team, who play in the NEAFL, on game days – with Madden determined to get a break in the top-tier before his contract runs out.

When he received the offer to pursue Aussie Rules, Madden had just completed his Leaving Certificate mock exams in St Colmcille’s Community School in Knocklyon.

“I was just after doing my mocks when I got the offer and it was just really cool to sign up, but it didn’t affect my Leaving Cert at all – I wanted to get that out of the way first,” he said.

Madden, a hot-prospect who was on the radar of many as he rose through the Dublin underage ranks, was picked to take part in the annual AFL European Combine where he shattered agility and sprinting records.

“It came up in November 2017 in UCD. Basically, they pick 30 of the best players from around the country from Minor up,” Madden explained.

“We did all these tests such as running and jumping, it was really cool to be there with the boys.”

Four players who attended that trial session out in UCD, Mark Keane, Anton Tohill, Peader Ó Cofaigh Byrne and Madden were picked to travel to Florida with the AFL Academy.

Following his performances at that, an offer of a Category B international rookie contract was tabled by Brisbane Lions – one of the most successful clubs in recent years.

“My dad just got an email from this man who was involved with Brisbane saying that he wanted to meet up with us in Dublin,” he explains.

“Then about two weeks later he just put it to me, ‘there’s an offer there if you want it’. I had to do it, I had to go over and give it a go and my family were all for it.”

Ballyboden St Endas v Kilcoo All Ireland SCFC semi final James Madden of Brisbane Lions Photo by John Kirwan

James Madden in action for Ballyboden

At the conclusion of his first season in Australia, Madden jetted home for a three-week break over the Christmas where he surprisingly turned out for his home club Ballyboden St Enda’s in their All-Ireland Club Football Semi-Final against Kilcoo.

“When I was home over the Christmas, I was training with Ballyboden and I seen them winning everything – I was sick not to be a part of it,” said the Lions half-back.

“I said it to Anthony [Rainbow] and Ryan [Basquel] that I was thinking about putting myself forward and they were fully on board with it, so then I asked my coach in Brisbane and he thought that it would be perfect for my pre-season work.”

“The culture and the attitude of the players in Ballyboden is absolutely unbelievable.

“There is some buzz in that dressing room and there’s no ego either. I don’t think there will be any change in their drive and desire this year and I’m sure that they’ll be knocking on the door again.”

Many see Madden following a similar path to late Ballyboden footballer star Jim Stynes who, himself, travelled over to Australia to pursue an AFL career in the 1980s, making a massive impact with Melbourne over an 11-year spell at the end of which he was hailed as one of the greats of the sport.

Following in his footsteps, Madden is conscious of how beloved Stynes was before his tragic passing in 2012 and how big of a challenge it would be to try and emulate his achievements.

“I always knew who he was growing up, I remember it being big news when he passed away back in Ireland” recalled Madden.

“It is impossible to try and compare yourself to him. Everybody in Australia knows who he is and a lot of people would say he is one of the best ever. How can you try compare yourself to somebody who is the best ever?”

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