GAA Football

Swapping Armagh for Essendon 'bitter sweet' says Ross McQuillan

Ross McQuillan has signed a two-year International Rookie contract with Essendon
Andy Watters

LEAVING Armagh to sign for Melbourne Aussie Rules giants Essendon is “bitter-sweet” says Ross McQuillan.

The Cullyhanna speedster will swap an O’Neills size five for the oval Aussie Rules ball and amateur sport for the professional dream in November when he travels Down Under to begin a two-year international rookie contract with ‘the Bombers’.

He believes there is “something building” with Armagh and is sorry to miss out on the chance to nail down a place in Kieran McGeeney’s emerging side but after making a difficult decision McQuillan is determined to make a career in the Australian Football League.

“It’s something I felt I had to do,” said Ross, son of former Armagh star Martin McQuillan.

“If I didn’t go I could look back and think: ‘What if?’ So I just thought I had to give it a rattle.

“It was a bitter-sweet kind of moment because there is something building there with Armagh and then I got this opportunity.

“It was: ‘Do-I/Don’t-I?’ Even in Cullyhanna, we’re trying to compete for a senior championship. So you think about it.

“But a lot of people would give anything to be in the situation that I’m lucky enough to be in. It’ll be waking up every day and going training… That’ll be my job! I can’t think of many better jobs out there.”

McQuillan made his Championship debut for Armagh in the 2018 season and featured in the Orchard County’s League campaign this year. The pace, kicking ability and determination that had him marked out as future Armagh star were also spotted by AFL scouts at last year’s Ulster U20 final.

After impressing at ‘combines’ in Ireland and during a trial in Australia, Essendon offered him the chance to become a professional sportsman.

It was too good an opportunity to turn down and McQuillan will pack his bags for Melbourne in mid-November so he can settle in and hit the ground before Essendon’s pre-season begins at the end of the month.

“I’m new to the sport so I’m going to have to work hard, get the head down and take the bumps in the road because it’s not all going to be plain sailing,” he said.

“It’s a great opportunity but you have to go thinking: ‘I am good enough to make it’.

“Staying injury-free is a big thing too so hopefully I’ll be lucky in that department and if that goes well I can concentrate on playing football.

McQuillan stayed with former Tyrone starlet Conor McKenna during a two-week trial at Essendon.

McKenna signed for the Bombers in 2014 and is now an established defender in the side. McQuillan says the former Eglish star was a “massive help” to him during his trial.

“He took me under his wing and introduced me to everyone in the club,” he explained.

“He was a massive help and it is great to have somebody there who has done it before who can help guide you and advise you. He is flying out there at the minute so I’ll be able to pick his brains too.”

He intends to follow in the Tyrone man’s footsteps and force his way into the first time and make his a career in Aussie Rules with the 16-time premiership champions.

“I’ll give it my all,” he said.

“In 10 years’ time I don’t want to be looking back going: ‘I wish I had have done this’ or ‘what if I had have done that?’ I want to be able to say that I tried it and it either worked out or it didn’t. You can’t have any qualms about it.”

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