The penultimate round of the AFL season would be one for the ages, with many ladder defining clashes and tight finishes proving to be a perfect pre cursor for what is set to be an enthralling 2019 finals series.
Two Irish players would find themselves caught up in what was very well the match of the year on Saturday afternoon, as the first placed Cats and second placed Lions did battle on a beautiful day in Brisbane.
With top spot on the line, it was close all afternoon with the class of the Cats holding a 2-3 goal buffer for the majority of the first three quarters.
However, like they have done on so many occasions this year, the Lions roared into action late, with some fast tempo footy seeing them pile on multiple goals on the Cats late as they hoped to snag a ninth straight victory.
Five goals from Charlie Cameron was pivotal in igniting the Brisbane side, before a classic mark by former Cat Lincoln McCarthy would put the Lions in front at the death as they completed a classic one point win.
Unfortunately Irishman Mark O’Connor and Zach Tuohy would find themselves on the wrong end of this classic encounter, but can still hold their heads high as the Geelong defence was resolute all day long.
Playing his traditional lock down role in defence, O’Connor was again solid upon return to the Cats side, with his temperament in one percenters a particular highlight of his game.
Although Cameron did manage to get off the chain late, O’Connor was still impressive in halting the fast paced Brisbane forward line and sticking to task on a number of different of opponents.
Along with his work defensively, the Irishman was also able to get involved with ball in hand claiming 11 disposals, two tackles and a mark from the back pocket.
Teammate Zach Tuohy would be the first to admit he wasn’t quite at his best at the GABBA only picking up the 12 possessions across the wing and half back.
Despite that, the effort and endeavour was there all day from the veteran, with his maturity with ball in hand and hardness around the contest.
This was emphasised by his five tackles and five contested possessions, as he constantly put his body on the line and major some major defensive plays throughout the afternoon.
He was also prevalent in getting the Cats going offensively from the back line with a four inside 50’s adding to the effect he had on the game.
After being embarrassed last week, the Bombers would get their revenge through a trip West, as they booked their spot in September with a gutsy 32 point win over the Dockers.
Conor McKenna’s breakout season would continue, as the ever consistent half back flanker was again one of the Bombers best.
Exerting that trade mark run and dash off half back, the performances of himself and partner in crime Adam Saad were critical in the Bombers getting their mojo back, as they really set things up from defence and torched the Dockers with their ability to run and carry.
Quite rightly recognised as one of Essendon’s most important players, McKenna would pick up an extremely damaging 24 disposals on the night, with the Bombers having no answer for his pace and agility.
He would also have four score involvements, four intercept possessions and use the ball at an incredibly efficient 79% in what was just an all round performance from the young, blonde running defender.
With a match against old rivals Collingwood on Friday night, McKenna will get a great dress rehearsal heading into his second finals campaign.
Two Irish players would face off in the final match of the round as the Hawks farewelled champion Jarryd Roughead in style with a 70 point win over the struggling Suns.
In what has been an injury interrupted year, Suns veteran Pearce Hanley would steal the show with a near best on ground performance at Marvel Stadium.
Thrown into the midfield by coach Stuart Dew, the Irishman certainly disappoint, as he was prolific all day with his work on the outside of the contest.
Picking up a season and match high 34 disposals, it seemed like Hanley was everywhere, constantly presenting as an option for his teammates and running hard through all four quarters.
Hanley would also have 11 marks, eight contested possessions and two tackles in a dominant display, as he more than proved to everyone at the Suns he is capable of going around again next year.
Although the side has struggled for the majority of the year, it has been great to see Hanley rediscover his best form, with his performance on Sunday a clear indication of his value to the Suns moving forward.
After coming in as a late inclusion last week and putting on a career best performance, Hawthorn’s Conor Nash was again solid up forward.
With the majority of the attention inside Hawthorn’s forward 50 rightfully going to Roughead, Nash proved an excellent foil for the big man as he constantly crashed packs and did the one percenters for his team.
He would show his immense athletic potential in the last quarter, as he managed to get a clean run at the ball and take a strong contested mark before converting from close range, a passage of play which would certainly excite Hawks fans.
His pressure was also good, as he put on 19 pressure acts and laid four tackles, further showing his worth to the Hawthorn forward line moving forward.
Zac Standish – AFL Europe