Irish Watch: AFL Round 4 & 5 Review

IT HAS been a big fortnight in the footy world with the development of COVID-19 in Victoria seeing all ten of its clubs move on into hubs in the northern states, in a bid to keep the 2020 season afloat.

As the game continues to fight through these uncertain times, club’s have continued to embrace the unfamiliar nature of the season and fight on with some really interesting developments beginning to arise on the field.

Whether it’s the rise of the Gold Coast Suns and St Kilda or the inconsistency of Richmond and Collingwood, the season thus far has had it all.

With so much happening over the past two weeks, our Irish boys continued to battle hard and flourish in some very tough encounters.

Round four would only see three Irish players take the field, as Colin O’Riordan unfortunately missed out on selection for Sydney’s Thursday night clash with the Bulldogs.

O'Connor muscles his way through. Photo: AFL Photos.

O’Connor muscles his way through. Photo: AFL Photos.

However, it would see a career best performance from young Geelong defender Mark O’Connor as a rise in confidence saw him defend hard and also influence the game on the offensive end.

In what was a standout performance from the Geelong back six, O’Connor was critical in keeping Melbourne’s dangerous small forwards at bay with his ability to match them on the ground and monster them in the air, resulting in absolutely zero opposition influence.

Picking up an almost match high 20 disposals, O’Connor was everywhere at the G’ as we saw just how much he has improved in a short period of time.

Along with being able to find the ball, it was super impressive to see how O’Connor used it as he went at an elite 80% disposal efficiency, with many of his touches resulting in positive passages of play for the Cats.

He also took a match high 14 marks, which in a time reduced game is an extraordinary effort and further shows his rise into one of the competition’s premier small defenders.

The Gold Coast Suns continued their good form in round four as they extended their winning streak to three with a 13-point win over Fremantle at Metricon Stadium.

With young guns Touk Miller, Jack Lukosius and Jack Bowes leading the way, the Suns continued to play the attacking and fun brand of football that has endeared them to many across the country.

Complementing this host of young stars, the Suns have also had a tight group of veterans all play major roles, including dashing defender Pearce Hanley.

One of the few experienced players in the Suns back six, Hanley was again critical in this match as he stood up in the big moments and organised his younger defensive colleagues exceptionally.

Despite only picking up 10 disposals for the night, it was his work away from the ball that had a major impact on his team’s ability to claim the four points and keep their momentum going.

His cool head and ability to make smart decisions with ball in hand were two particular highlights of his game as he continues to help nurse this crop of exciting youth.

Moving into round five it was excellent to see O’Riordan instantly recalled for the Swans crucial clash with West Coast at Metricon Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

Transitioning into more of a defensive role in the back pocket, O’Riordan was tasked with quelling the influence of the Eagles’ dangerous group of small forwards.

Playing as a pure lockdown defender for the first time in his career at AFL level, he took to the job well with his ability to spoil and outmuscle his opponents a particular highlight of his performance.

Despite only picking up seven disposals, coach John Longmire would be pleased with his defensive intensity and ability to play his role within the Swans back six.

On what was unfortunately a poor day for Sydney, O’Riordan should be buoyed by his performance as he hopes to lock down a permanent position in the side.

Tuohy pre-game. Photo: AFL Photos.

Saturday afternoon would also include a huge clash between Geelong and the Gold Coast, with three Irish players lacing up the boots at GMHBA Stadium.

Looking to keep their great form rolling, the Suns would be rocked early by a shoulder injury to young star Matt Rowell, who unfortunately looks likely to miss the remainder of the season.

Despite the loss of their star midfielder, Gold Coast cracked in all day staying in the contest until deep in the last term when the Cats got away to claim a 37-point victory.

One of the standouts from the home side was Zach Tuohy, as he continued his outstanding start to the season.

Picking up 20 disposals and five marks, Tuohy was once again a constant presence on the outside for Geelong with his ability to make space and break the lines crucial to his sides ability to break the game open.

Using the ball at an impressive 65%, Tuohy’s decision making was superb as teammates constantly looked for him to get the ball out of the defensive 50.

Back to near career best form, it is great to see the Irish veteran play such a key part in the early season success of his team.

Zac Standish – AFL Europe