This weekend would see the season start for all of our fit Irish players, with round one of the NEAFL and VFL kicking off for the reserves sides.
Round three of the AFL would see four Irish players represent their respective sides in blockbuster clashes around the country.
After being dubbed “the worst list since Fitzroy”, Pearce Hanley’s Gold Coast Suns again silenced their doubters with a spirited five-point win over the Western Bulldogs at Marvel Stadium.
Playing across the half back line, Hanley’s experience was critical all day for the Suns as they held off the fast finishing Bulldogs to claim one of the best wins in the club’s history.
In his best performance for the year thus far, Hanley would pick up an impressive 22 disposals and four marks as he continues to regain the dash and class that made him so damaging at the Brisbane Lions.
His on-field leadership was also something to admire, as he led from the front and acted as a coach like figure on the field for the young Sun’s defense around him.
With the game going down to the wire, Hanley would step up on countless occasions by taking big marks, making the right decisions and generally changing the tempo of the game to help his team hang on.
Thursday night would see young Mark O’Connor get another chance to impress on the big stage as his Geelong Cat’s travelled to Adelaide to take on the Crow’s in a blockbuster clash.
In what was a tight game throughout, Geelong proved themselves a genuine contender as they repelled every Adelaide advance and came away with a majorly impressive 24-point win.
Playing in a defence that restricted a once dominant Crows forward line to just 75 points, O’Connor was superb in the back pocket as he battled away brilliantly with seasoned star Eddie Betts.
O’Connor would prove more than a handful for Betts who found himself unable to hit the scoreboard and provide that trademark spark within Adelaide’s forward 50.
Along with his excellent work defensively, O’Connor would also assist in setting up the Cat’s attack off half back claiming 11 disposals of his own.
Faced with a do or die proposition against the Demon’s on Friday night, Conor McKenna’s Bombers would come up trumps on the MCG as they put in a spirited performance to run away 18-point victors.
Criticised for their slow ball movement and unwillingness to take risks, a rejuvenated Bombers would take the field on Friday night with Irishman McKenna leading the charge off half back.
Backing up his excellent game last week, McKenna would collect 20 possessions at 75% efficiency whilst also laying three tackles as he played his defensive role to perfection.
Seen throughout the night charging out of Essendon’s defence and setting up attacking movements for his team, there was lots to like from the 23-year old’s game which really resembled that of Pearce Hanley in his absolute prime.
The final Irishman to take the field this weekend would be young pressure forward Conor Nash, who’s Hawks bounced back from their fourth quarter meltdown last week to secure a much needed four points against North Melbourne.
Known for his pace and relentless approach to chasing and applying pressure, Nash was excellent in disturbing the Kangaroo’s defence and forcing seasoned campaigners such as Jasper Pittard, Jamie MacMillan and Shaun Atley into mistakes.
Along with his excellent pressure, Nash would contribute offensively with 11 disposals and a goal as he looks to expand his game and turn into a very dangerous small forward.
Moving to the VFL and it was an exciting day for North Melbourne’s Red Og Murphy, who after crossing over from Gaelic football last off season made his debut for the Kangaroo’s reserves.
Still very much adapting to the nuances of our game, it would very much be a learning experience for Murphy as he only managed the five disposals as North Melbourne went down by 39 points to a more experienced Werribee outfit. However, this was an important stepping stone for Murphy and no doubt a day he will never forget.
With all competitions now officially underway, expect more and more exciting updates from our Irish player as they each look to further enhance their skills and become key contributors for their respective clubs moving forward.
By Zac Standish