Irish Watch: AFL Round 23 Review

The year would end for a number of our Irish players on the weekend, as a whirlwind home and away season enjoyed a dramatic conclusion.

With a number of big games which ultimately decided positions in the finals, it certainly was a hectic weekend as Irish players had a major influence on many of these crucial fixtures.

Perhaps the best performance of any Irishman this season, the class of Conor McKenna was on show for all to see on Friday night, standing up in the absence of many key Bombers as they almost caused a monumental upset against Collingwood at the MCG.

Lining up across half-back, it was an outstanding night for the blonde speedster as he showed his improvement across the season with this incredibly dominant display.

It seemed as if he was everywhere at the MCG, as he could constantly be found breaking through tackles, pulling the trigger on risky kicks and really driving the Bombers from the back half.  

The 23-year-old would finish the evening with a whopping career-high 35 disposals, showing he can really step up and be a dominant contributor for the Bombers moving forward.

He would also use the ball beautifully all night, going at a super impressive 77%, whilst also having 710 metres gained and eight rebounds in what was a well-rounded performance.

The rising Bomber’s attention now turns to his second finals series, where he will need to again be instrumental if Essendon is to go over and cause an upset in the West against the Eagles. 

After going down in heartbreaking circumstances up at the GABBA last week, Geelong responded swiftly with a clinical 68 point win over the improved Blues.

Struggling in last week’s match, Zach Tuohy came back well against his old side in a new role across half-forward.

Using his speed and skills to good use, the Cats may have found a wildcard heading into the finals as the Irish veteran seemed to add another dimension to what is an already established forward group at Geelong.

Overall, Tuohy would have 15 touches, five marks and kick 2.2 goals in a promising performance as he looks to sure up his role and spot in the side heading into this finals series. 

Continuing in his role down back, Mark O’Connor’s stock continues to rise as he produced yet another solid performance.

Playing on a number of the Carlton talls and smalls, O’Connor would defend stoutly all night, blending in well with the remaining Cats defence which was again on song. 

He was also tough around the contest, picking up five tackles, and showed again that he is a nightmare to play on as he produced a number of key one-percenters and defensive plays.

Offensively he would also find ways to join in with the Cats ball movement picking up 11 disposals, as he often got involved in some very damaging pieces of play.

With Geelong back in the finals for another year, it will be very exciting to see what the young Irishman can do with some more confidence at senior level.

Hawthorn produced their best win of the year in a last-minute attempt to make the eight, as they travelled over to Perth and easily accounted for the in-form West Coast Eagles.

In what was described as a masterpiece from legendary coach Alastair Clarkson, Hawthorn was outstanding from start to finish playing a desperate brand of footy which shocked the reigning premiers.

Since coming as a late change a fortnight ago, Irishman Conor Nash has made a real difference to this Hawks forward line and Saturday night would be no exception.

Although he doesn’t collect big numbers of disposals, the athletic forward contributes in other ways with his pressure and ability to bring the ball to ground particular highlights of his game.

He has also shown flashes of brilliance all season, with some moments in the West on Saturday night showing his potential to be an excellent forward for years to come.

In the end, Nash would collect eight disposals, four marks, two tackles and kick a goal in a solid display to close out the season.

The Gold Coast Sun’s season would finish in disappointing fashion on Saturday night as they couldn’t stop a rampaging GWS side in the battle of the expansion clubs. 

Relishing a new role in the midfield, Irishman Pearce Hanley would again be one to hold his head high on a tough night for the club as he put his heart on the line in a spirited performance.

Finally getting a decent run with the Suns, Hanley has progressed beautifully in the latter part of the season with his trademark run and dash on show for all to see through the middle of the ground.

One of the games best distributors, Hanley has been a pivotal outside presence for the Gold Coast in recent weeks, often being on the end of handball chains and putting his side in a good position.

Finishing with 23 disposals, Hanley’s ball use was elite going at 70% whilst he was also excellent in driving the Gold Coast’s attacking movement having eight inside 50’s.

In a year that saw the Suns lose 18 consecutive games, they can certainly find a positive through Hanley’s output as he seems to be finding his best form.

AFL Europe – Zac Standish