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Saturday, February 29 2020 @ 07:49 am ACDT

Irish in the AFL - Mid-season review

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The Irish players in the AFL have been undergoing a tough time of late, with Tadhg Kennelly out injured, Setanta O’hAlpin experiencing a dip in form and Pearce Hanley playing his first senior game of the season before being dropped. There has however been some promising performances in the VFL with Tommy Walsh kicking his first goals in the sport for Sandringham and Michael Quinn impressing for the Bendigo Bombers, kicking 3 goals last week.

Kennelly’s superb start to the season was interrupted in the first 90 seconds of his sides defeat at home to Fremantle. A seemingly innocuous challenge saw Kennelly go down injured and despite frantic work from the trainers he was unable to return. He was diagnosed with a medial ligament strain and after 2 weeks he returned ahead of schedule in the win over Port Adelaide. Although he lacked sharpness he should soon be back to his best as the Swans push to consolidate a finals berth.

Having been named as an emergency previously, Hanley played only his fourth senior match in a Brisbane Lion shirt in the round 8 lost to Geelong. On the back of three defeats the Lions struggled against the reigning Premiers, losing by a huge margin of over 10 goals. Playing from half back Hanley looked off the pace against the class opposition managing only 8 disposals and has not been named on the senior panel since. However since returning to the Reserves he has as before been regularly named amongst the Lions best on ground.

Following on from his sterling form at the start of the season Setanta O’hAlpin has struggled to maintain such a high standard. He kicked 21 goals in the first 8 games but has managed only 4 in 4 since. Two terrible mistakes against Hawthorn, when he played on from marks in front of goal, cost the Blues two majors in a loss they were expected to win. He was back in form kicking three goals in the win over the West Coast Eagles before again scoring a blank in victory over Melbourne. He kicked one goal in a quiet performance in last week’s loss to North Melbourne but he is still well on the way to kicking the most goals ever by an Irishman in a season of AFL.

2009 GAA young player of the year, Tommy Walsh, began the season in St.Kilda’s VFL affiliate, Sandringham, playing in the back line. As he was always a full forward for his native Kerry, this was seen as a way for him to learn and develop in the sport. He has since moved to his more familiar attacking role where he has recently kicked his first goals in the sport. A player of his physicality and natural athletic ability is sure to make an impact in the AFL but he might have to wait a while for a senior game in the Saints ultra competitive line up.

Michael Quinn played six games for Essendon last year before having a nightmare performance in the elimination final loss to the Adelaide Crows. He has yet to be named in the Bombers side this year but his VFL form for Bendigo has impressed kicking three goals last week against Coburg and regularly is named in the best on ground for his side. Also in the VFL, Zac Tuohy has been playing for Carlton’s feeder club the Northern Bullants in the back pocket. He kicked his first goals for the club in the demolition of future AFL Gold Coast side.

Two players newly arrived in Australia have been making progress with their sides reserves of late are Niall McKeever of Brisbane and Chris McKague of Sydney. McKeever was named best on ground in defeat to Broadbeach and also amongst the best the following week vs Labrador. McKague has played 6 games at half back for the Swans reserves kicking his first goal in the sport in a draw against Ainslie.

Brian Donnelly of the Adelaide Crows and Conor Meredith of North Melbourne are two Irishmen who have made less progress. Both in their second year in Australia, Donnelly has been playing for the Central Bulldogs reserve side in a key forward role. Following on from last year where he played for Glenelg’s reserves, the AFL must seem a long way off. Similarly, Meredith only made 2 appearances in the VFL for Werribee last year and this season he has played exclusively for the reserve side.

Finally, Jamie O’Reilly, the first Irishman to sign for Richmond, has played 6 senior games for Coburg in the VFL. He has twice been named among the best on ground and with Richmond struggling at the foot of the AFL ladder it is not impossible to envisage O’Reilly been given an opportunity in the big time before the season is out.

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