BY MICHAEL O’LEARY
Darragh Joyce has been based down under in Australia since 2016 playing Australian Rules Football, and playing for the Brisbane Lions this season he has been making steady progress within the sport having taken time initally to settle after arriving seven years ago.
Darragh had a very successful underage career with Kilkenny and his Club Rower-Inistioge, with the highlight, Captaining Kilkenny to All-Ireland Minor glory in 2014 against a Limerick team that included Sean Finn, Barry Nash, Cian Lynch and Seamus Flanagan.
Indeed 2014 was a very special year for the Joyce Family and for Rower-Inistioge.
Darragh’s brother Kieran was Man Of The Match in Kilkenny’s All-Ireland Senior Final Replay win against Tipperary, while Kieran and brother Conor were part of The Rower-Inistioge Team that won The Intermediate Club All-Ireland Final on a most memorable night in Croke Park.
The possibility of a move to Australia began when he was actually playing a Gaelic Football match for Good Counsel, New Ross. He impressed onlooking scouts, and the prospect of a move appeared increasingly more likely shortly after Captaining Kilkenny to All-Ireland Minor glory.
Aged just 17, he arrived in Australia where he tested at The 2015 AFL Draft Combine but did not sign at a Club due to homesickness. He delayed his move down under by a year to 2016, and in 2015 he actually still had another year eligble with The Kilkenny Minors.
After retaining the Leinster title, Kilkenny were unfortunate to lose out to eventual All-Ireland Champions Galway after a replay in the All-Ireland Semi-Final. Following that defeat to Galway, Darragh began to turn his attention to a life in an AFL environment. In 2016, he had trials with St. Kilda and joined as a Category B International Rookie before the 2017 season.
As mentioned already, Darragh’s progression down under was a slow burner and didn’t make his debut with St. Kilda until 2018 against Melbourne in Melbourne Cricket Ground.
Darragh was with St. Kilda for 6 years from 2016 until he left the club after been not offered a new contract, and with his future uncertain he decided to come back home to Ireland. His return home was to Rower-Inistioge’s benefit, and he played for the club in the Intermediate Championship where they reached the County Semi-Final before losing out to eventual Champions Danesfort.
Darragh actually scored 0-4 from play as Rower-Inistioge won The Shield Final against Carrickshock, and in a very special moment he got to play with Kieran who Captained the team.
However, he returned to Australia as he teamed up with The Brisbane Lions at the start of the year. Among his Teammates is Conor McKenna who was part of the Tyrone Team that won the Senior Football All-Ireland in 2021.
Since arriving in 2016, Darragh has had his challenges in not getting as much regular competitive action as he would have liked, but the fact he is still involved within the AFL 7 years after his arrival is a tribute to his determination to succeed.
Coming from a non-traditional Football County, but having been spotted by scouts in a school that has a strong Gaelic Football culture – along with Hurling – it shows the versatility and talent that Darragh has.
He became the first Kilkenny native to play Australian Rules Football, and has certainly done his Family, Rower-Inistioge and Kilkenny very proud indeed.
It will be fascinating to see how he will fare with Brisbane Lions, but there will be no questioning his desire and determination to make it a success. One thing is for certain, he will always have the option of returning home to Ireland again in the future and hurling with Rower-Inistioge.