Three would turn into two this weekend as Essendon’s elimination last week resulted in Mark O’Connor and Zach Tuohy being the only two Irish players to grace the field in week two of the AFL Finals.
After a poor start to the 2019 finals series against Colingwood last week, the Cats were itching to bounce back on Friday night as the reigning premiers West Coast Eagles arrived at the MCG for a do-or-die semi final.
The fire was certainly there for Geelong early as they came out ferocious in the first quarter and produced some scintillating football to hold a five goal advantage early in the second term.
However, West Coast are reigning premiers for a reason, and they showed that throughout the second and third quarters with their ability to intercept and hold possession through their marking game proving ultra effective.
After getting away to the perfect start, the Eagles had pulled the Cats in, hitting the front late in the third term and holding a narrow four point lead into the final term.
With the season on the line and a straight sets finals exit looming, Geelong would kick into gear as, similarly to the first term, they produced 30 minutes of phenomenal football to save their season and set up a blockbuster Preliminary Final against Richmond next Friday night.
One of the standouts from the night, veteran Zach Tuohy, showed his class and composure, producing a gritty finals performance to help his side get over the line.
With star wingman Mitch Duncan forced to the sidelines with a knee injury, Tuohy was again injected into a new role across the wing and half back to try and replicate the outside run and carry created by Duncan.
Pressure on him, Tuohy certainly delivered picking up 27 disposals at an extremely efficient 82% to be considered among the Cats best.
On a night where star Patrick Dangerfield was well held, the influence of the second tier players like Tuohy was astounding and ended up being the difference in the game.
Along with his 27 touches, Tuohy would register eight marks, three inside 50’s, three rebound 50’s and eight contested possessions in what was a very well rounded game.
A particular highlight was his willingness to take risks with ball in hand, and really change the defensive structures of the Eagles when they began to get on top late in the first half.
It’s now about consistency for Tuohy, as he looks to replicate his fantastic performance with another against the rampant Tigers on Friday night.
Still new to finals footy, Mark O’Connor’s stocks took another rise on Friday night as he played a pivotal role in shutting down the dangerous West Coast small forwards.
Matched up with the likes of Liam Ryan and Jamie Cripps, it was never going to be an easy task for the young Irishman.
However, as he has all season, the defender would rise to the occasion and step up for his team as he enjoyed probably his best final and was really a key contributor to the Cats victory.
A performance that featured many big spoils, crucial defensive stops and important marks, it really was a defensive masterclass from O’Connor as he continues to look more and more at home at AFL level.
He would also get involved with ball in hand on a number of occasions, as he picked up 14 disposals and two marks, with his ability to get into dangerous spots particularly eye-catching.
His toughness at the contest was another key factor to his success on the September stage on Friday night, as he never shied away and was always there when a ball needed to be won for his team.
Similarly to Tuohy, it is important that O’Connor takes confidence out of this performance and replicates it next week against the Tigers who boast some of the best small forwards and attacking systems in the league.