Noah Anderson trains made an early debut for the Suns. Picture: Getty Images
Noah Anderson trains made an early debut for the Suns. Picture: Getty Images

Speed demon among Irishmen flown back

ACTIONS speak louder than words.

So the Brisbane Lions and Irishman James Madden must be very keen on each other.

Madden, 20, arrived back in Australia on Saturday with five other Irish players after the AFL, AFLPA, the relevant clubs (Collingwood, Essendon, GWS and Brisbane) and an immigration expert combined to earn visa approval for them to return to the country.

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The Irish contingent went home after the competition was shut down two months ago and will go into quarantine in Melbourne for the next two weeks.

The Lions recruited the 186cm-tall Madden after he broke the all-time AFL Draft Combine 20 metre sprint record at the European Combine in December 2017.

The Gaelic football and hurling star arrived in Australia in 2018 and spent 2019 playing in Brisbane's NEAFL side when his skills and game sense steadily improved to complement his standout speed across halfback.

The Category B rookie has extended his contract with Brisbane until the end of 2021 by which time he could be challenging for a place in the senior side.

James Madden in action in the NEAFL.
James Madden in action in the NEAFL.

Given the number of hoops that both Madden and Brisbane had to jump through to get him back to the Gabba, they are clearly both excited about his future that may not include any actual matches in 2020 due to COVID-19 measures.

"We made it really clear to him that we wanted him to come back,'' Lions general manager of football, David Noble, said.

"There was strong interest from us in continuing his development because we believe he has a future.

"If he was up for the trip, which is a little bit more clunky at the moment, we would love to support him in his desire to become a professional athlete at this level."

After speaking to Madden and his family about how the footy landscape had drastically changed due to coronavirus, what would be involved in the trip back to Australia and where he sat in the club's long-term plans, the answer was prompt and positive.

"He said, 'yep, get me back','' Noble said.

Even if he does not play a game this year, Noble said Madden would work closely with the club's development coaches.

"He's very quick which fits the profile we want for here at the Gabba which is a quick ground. He needs to keep chipping away with his skills and understanding of the game which have already progressed because he is a diligent, self-starter with a good work ethic,'' he said.

Madden was encouraged to sign with Brisbane by former Lions player Cian Hanley - the younger brother of one-time Brisbane star Pearce.

"James is very popular within the playing group. He's very well liked like most of the Irish boys. He has a great attitude to the community environment which is another reason why we wanted him back,'' Noble said.

Noah Anderson and Matt Rowell haven’t missed a beat during the AFL shutdown. Picture:/Getty Images
Noah Anderson and Matt Rowell haven’t missed a beat during the AFL shutdown. Picture:/Getty Images

Why top picks have Suns buzzing

Silky Gold Coast midfielder Brayden Fiorini says young guns Matt Rowell and Noah Anderson have the Suns buzzing.

Rowell and Anderson were taken by the Suns with the top two draft picks at the end of last year and the best friends made their senior AFL debuts together when Gold Coast lost to Port Adelaide at Metricon Stadium in Round 1 in March.

They returned to Melbourne to be with their families when the competition was put on hold because of COVID-19 and have hit the ground running this week as Gold Coast returned to training.

Rowell and Anderson have been in the seven-man training group alongside the 22-year-old Fiorini, who was elevated to the club's leadership group last year when he averaged a club-high 25 disposals per game and finished fifth in the Suns' best-and-fairest.

After a stop-start opening few seasons, Fiorini has found the consistency to go with the class, composure and clever ball use in the midfield or on a wing that made him a top 20 draft pick in 2015.

Entering his fifth season in the AFL system, Fiorini said he has not had to use his leadership skills around Rowell and Anderson.

"I don't need to with those fellas, they are really self-driven and really professional. It feels like they've been around the club for a long time,'' Fiorini said.

"Wittsy (co-captain Jarrod Witts) and I are looking over them but they are actually really driving training at the moment and holding us to a higher standard as well which is good to see.

"It was a tough start for them, getting drafted, playing one week and then off again but they got to go home and see their families which is a bonus.

"Moving away when you are 18 can be pretty tough … but knowing those two, they would have trained hard, just as hard as they would have up here.

"They have been buzzing around the joint which is good for us."

Fiorini said the two-month forced break had brought the players closer together and that tight-knit bond will serve the young Suns well as they navigate the uncharted waters of the 2020 season.

"We have been continually checking in over the break with support groups and catch-ups so we are pumped to be back together. We don't really know how the season is going to play out so we'll go with the flow and try to keep the enthusiasm up,'' he said.

"You do miss the boys when you are away from the club but the regular check-ups with everyone, you definitely saw the genuine care. We are pretty close, we do share this special bond and we cherish it more now that we are back together.''