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Friday, April 19 2019 @ 05:57 pm ACST

AFL's Irish brigade set for big season

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The GAA may have put the International Rules series into deep freeze, but former GAA stars in the AFL are running hot in pre-season training. We have a look at the form of the O'hAilpin brothers (and point you to a great documentary on the family), and draw attention to several recent media reports on the other members of the Irish invasion.

At Carlton the O’hAilpin brothers, Setanta and Aisake have shown excellent form in pre-season trial matches. Setanta looks set to take over a key position in the backlines such as full-back after he well held the AFL’s 2006 highest scoring forward, Brendan Fevola (another name known in Ireland but for less glamorous reasons) in an internal Carlton trial match earlier this month. Setanta is no longer the young lanky hurler from Cork as three seasons of professional gym work has given him the build to wrestle any opponent out from under a falling Sherrin. Meanwhile in the same trial match, the AFL website reports younger brother Aisake to have shown “some mecurial touches in the ruck”. In Carlton's second internal trial Setanta was again praised for his efforts, and will be aiming to start round 1 2007 in the Blues' senior team.

The Irish national broadcaster’s TV station RTE-One has produced a brilliant inspirational documentary on the O’hAilpin brothers including elder brother and captain of County Cork’s hurling side, Sean Og O’hAilpin. It documents the sporting highlights and lives of these talented trio of brothers from Fiji to Ireland and Australia. A version of the documentary seems available in 9 parts starting from episode 1 on Youtube. It would seem the perfect show for Australia’s multicultural channel SBS to bring to a wider audience, hopefully that will happen soon, particularly if Setanta and Aisake live up to their early form in this year’s AFL season.

Over at Carlton’s traditional rival, Collingwood, Martin Clarke is another promising young Irishman who is seen as a big loss to his County Down Gaelic football team where he played centre-half forward. Clarke was recently highlighted on Collingwood TV – see via our link in the story Collingwood TV feature Irish and Brazilian connections. Collingwood assistant coach and former West Coast Eagle star defender, Guy McKenna rates young Martin Clarke as “the Irish equivalent of Nathan Buckley (the great Collingwood captain, Brownlow medalist and star midfielder)”. That would seem to put just a touch of pressure on young Martin, but from his online interview he would seem to have an earthy Irish sense of humour as well as a cool head. In his first game of Aussie Rules, just 3 weeks ago, he did not let the assistant coach down, as an article on the Collingwood website reported:

Some other players to impress were Ben Johnson, Leon Davis, Dane Swan and Irish recruit Martin Clarke, who showed tremendous poise and pace coming out of the backline, despite it being his first ever proper game of Australian rules football.

In breaking news Clarke last Friday played in Collingwood's trial game against Sydney at North Sydney Oval. Encouragingly for the AFL an excellent crowd of around 10,000 turned out for such an early pre-season match, featuring few of either side's stars. And in great news for Martin Clarke he was amongst the Magpies' best, capturing a lot of media attention before and after the game as the following stories show. Sydney defied their usual slow early season form, defeating Collingwood in the 15-a-side exhibition 10.6 (66) to 7.9 (51). A particularly interesting part of the first article below was that "In June last year, Collingwood flew Clarke to an English institute of sport for extensive physical and psychological testing and then sent him to Melbourne for an intensive five-week trial.". Perhaps this will be the way of the future for hopeful international rookies. And despite saying himself that he was unlikley to play seniors in 2007, after the match Assistant Coach Gavin Brown said he was now in line for a NAB Cup game, having spent plenty of time on the ball.

Swans' eyes on the Irish

Look of the Irish has Pies smiling

Sherrin skills now first rate

Also up Sydney way Tadhg Kennelly is already one of the most skilful masters of the oval ball in Australian football. This is highlighted in an article on Kennelly from the AFL website:

While laughing that he doubts he could improve on his skills - "I couldn't possibly do more for my kicking, handballing and marking because I have done so much of the bloody thing already" - he will look to improve his tactical play and positioning.

As the interview goes on to show – Tadhg’s desire is to not just be skilful but develop all aspects of his game to be one of the elite players of Australian Football before he returns (within the next 3 years) to his first love of Gaelic Football.

Further north, Brisbane Lion and former County Laois junior Gaelic footballer, Colm Begley, was the recipient of huge praise from Brisbane Lions legend and recently retired captain Michael Voss.

Voss also captained Australia in Ireland last November when Begley played for Ireland in the last International Rules Tests. Begley was one of Ireland’s better players in their come from behind win in the First Test in Galway. On the International Rules series, Begley’s Brisbane team-mate, Justin Sherman, speaks of his thrill to represent Australia in the hybrid series and disappointment at the current suspension of the series by the GAA (see article here).

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