Irish Watch – AFL Round 19 Review

Although Conor McKenna missed his first game of the year as he attended his brothers wedding back home in Ireland, the show rolled on for a number of Irish players at both AFL and state league level.

In a round filled with blockbuster clashes, tight finishes and some incredible individual efforts, the excitement continues to build with an epic finals series just one month away.

After 13 straight losses, it seemed like the Suns were destined for yet another heavy defeat as they faced the in-form Bombers at Metricon Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

However, Stuart Dew’s young and inexperienced group would band together and play their best footy of the year as they skipped out to an early three-goal lead.

Although the class of the Bombers would eventually shine through, with last-minute heroics by Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti, Cale Hooker and Jake Stringer scraping them over the line, the Gold Coast showed there is great potential with this group.

One of the more experienced players in the squad, Pearce Hanley, enjoyed another stellar game across half-back as he led the Suns defensive unit to absolute perfection.

With injury having a major effect on the Irishman’s season, it was great to see him back to his best against the Bombers with his run and precise skills showing he’s still got plenty more to give at AFL level.

A breakout game of sorts in terms of his 2019 season, Hanley would have 26 disposals, three intercept possessions, five marks and a tackle in what was a well-rounded performance for a half-back flanker.

With four games left, Hanley will hope to build on this form and get the Gold Coast back on the winners list.

Conor Nash enjoyed his best game of the season, as the tall forward began to look comfortable in his position and made his presence known in the Hawks 27 point loss to the roaring Lions.

After showing flashes over the past month, this was by far Nash’s most complete performance as he was able to finally put all the aspects of his game he’s been developing over the season into action.

With the Lions showing themselves to be clearly the better side on the day, Nash was important in continually giving Hawthorn a sniff throughout the day as whenever the ball went inside 50 he looked dangerous.

His pressure around the ball was another highlight, as he made life hard for the Lions defenders when the ball hit the ground and was brilliant in ensuring it stayed down the Hawks end.

Finishing up with 12 disposals, three marks, two tackles and two goals, this is the kind of performance Nash can build on over the past month of the season heading into potentially a finals series.

Two Irish players would come together at the SCG on Sunday afternoon as the ladder leading Cats looked to break their form slump with a win against the Swans.

In what was a tight affair for the majority of the afternoon, the class of Geelong would end up being too much for the youthful Swans, as they maintained their two-win buffer on top of the ladder with a much needed 27 point win.

Enjoying a breakout season, Colin O’Riordan was again outstanding for the Swans across the wing and half-back.

Playing as a running intercept defender, O’Riordan’s reading of the ball was a particular highlight from the weekend as he was sublime above his head and stopped a number of Geelong’s attacking passages of play.

Along with his work defensively, O’Riordan was able to impact the game with the ball in hand, as he managed to find it relatively easily and used at an impressive 83%.

Ending up with 18 disposals, six marks and two tackles, O’Riordan continues to impress at AFL level and is a part of what is an exciting rebuilding phase at the Swans.

Despite his excellent performance, O’Riordan would unfortunately pick up a groin injury late on which will see him miss the Sydney derby next weekend.

On the other side, Mark O’Connor’s stock as a small defender continued to rise after yet another solid performance in the Geelong back six.

Matched up on one of the best small forwards in the competition in Tom Papley, O’Connor was sublime defensively keeping the goal sneak to just four disposals and a goal.

Renowned as being tough to play on, the Cats defender has put together an impressive list of scalps this season with his efforts being under-appreciated by the broader AFL community.

Along with his work on Papley, he managed to get involved with the ball in hand, picking up 15 disposals and was again excellent with his ball use going at 87%.

Having played every game this year, O’Connor has grown tremendously and will without a doubt be critical for the team heading into September.

In the NEAFL, GWS’s Callum Brown continued his development with another excellent performance up forward.  

Highlighted by an epic running goal that would be in AFL goal of the year calculations, the young Irishman used his pace and skill to be dangerous up forward with his tackling and ability to create looking promising.

Zac Standish – AFL Europe.