It wasn’t to be for the Irish this year, as Zach Tuohy and Mark O’Connor’s finals campaign came to a close in heartbreaking fashion at the MCG against Richmond on Friday Night.
After bouncing back strongly against reigning premiers West Coast last week, the Cats looked like pulling off a major upset as they went into the main change with a 21-point lead and full of momentum.
But a re-energised Tigers outfit went to work early in the third, piling on five goals to regain the lead before putting the result beyond doubt in the last.
The loss would result in another failed finals series for the Cats who, since their premiership triumph in 2011, have slumped to a dismal 3-11 September record.
On a positive note, Tuohy was again phenomenal on the Friday night finals stage, as he was the Cats most prolific outside presence.
Similarly to last week, Tuohy would play across half back and the wing as the Cats constantly looked to get the ball to him in dangerous positions.
His work in the first half was particularly impressive, as he managed the make the dangerous Richmond forward line accountable and set up the Cats ball movement with his excellent execution of skills.
It would end up being a 26 disposal night for the dependable Irishman who, after coming into the finals series with question marks surrounding his position in the side, became one of the Cats top September contributors.
He would also managed to rake in four marks and seven intercept possessions whilst contributing strongly to the Cats ability to hit the scoreboard with six score involvements.
The most impressive part of his game however would be the way he used the ball, going at an impressive 88% as he constantly made good decisions and settled beautifully into the pressures of a big final.
Joining Tuohy in defence, O’Connor would finish his breakout 2019 campaign with one more solid performance as he did all he could to help stem the influence of Richmond’s mosquito fleet of small forwards.
Seemingly a completely different player now then in round one, O’Connor’s growth was on show for all to see on Friday night as he played with confidence and comfort on football’s biggest stage.
Defensively, O’Connor was his typical self as he didn’t give the opposition and inch and really made life difficult for the likes of Daniel Rioli, Shai Bolton and Jason Castagna.
He was also very good with his intercepting work down back as he took a number of strong marks and got in the way of Richmond’s attacking ball movement with three intercept possessions.
With his ability to go out and get the ball a weakness throughout the year, O’Connor showed his improvement on Friday night claiming 18 disposals and six marks.
A particular highlight of his game was how he made space and damaged the Tigers when he got the ball, using at a superb 83%.
He would also win a number of crucial one on ones throughout the night and was very important for the Cats defence who were again sublime, only keeping Richmond to 85 points.
With the season now complete for all our Irish players, it is safe to say 2019 has been a success with a number of individuals enjoying breakout campaigns.
From Conor McKenna to Ailish Considine, every Irish player has grown in some way and with more players already signing on for 2020 it is a very exciting time for AFL in Europe.
As for this weekend, despite the lack of Irish flavour, the Grand Final will be one of major interest as the red hot GWS Giants look to tame an outstanding Richmond side.