Seven weeks into the season and we saw a shake up within the Irish contingent of AFL Players, with good VFL form and unfortunate injury luck saw a new lineup take the field around the country this weekend.
The biggest story of the week came through the recall of St Kilda defender Darragh Joyce, who after a solid patch of form in the VFL came into the side for the first time since round one.
On a tough day in Canberra, Joyce would battle hard for the Saints in the defensive half producing a number of tough spoils and making some crucial defensive plays throughout the match.
He would also contribute to the St Kilda defence with 11 disposals and two tackles at an excellent efficiency of 91%.
In just his second game at the level, Joyce showed the composure and strength to thrive at AFL level as he continues to become accustomed to the nuances of the game.
His Saints on the other hand would struggle to get anything going on Saturday afternoon in Canberra, as they were outclassed from start to finish against the Giants who ended up coming away 44-point victors.
Another week, another big game for Essendon’s Conor McKenna as the Bombers faced the in form Cats in the annual Country Game at the MCG.
With 63,000 supporters in attendance, it was a hotly contested game from start to finish with the class of Geelong proving too much for the gallant Bombers in the end.
As for McKenna, his strong run of form would continue off half back, with the exuberant Irishman again racking up 20 disposals in an exciting display.
With his trademark run and dash coming to the fore, he would be pivotal in setting up a lot of Essendon’s attacking movements and really making the Cats forwards accountable running back the other way.
In what has been a very up and down year for Essendon, McKenna has been a much needed model of consistency in defence as he continues to develop into one of the competitions most damaging players.
His use of the ball is another area that saw great improvement on Sunday afternoon, as he wasn’t afraid to take the bold option coming out of the back half and with his disposal going at 70%.
On the other side of the park, Zach Tuohy would unfortunately pull out of the game late with general soreness, meaning we would miss out on seeing three Irish players take the same field for the first time this season.
However, after a season best performance against the Eagles, Geelong defender Mark O’Connor was eager to continue his good form in a big game on the MCG.
Having to combat the likes of Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti and Jake Stringer in a dangerous Essendon forward line, O’Connor was again as solid as ever in the back pocket with his defensive work critical in restricting the Bombers to a lowly score of 54.
A player that prioritises the defensive aspects of his game, O’Connor was again excellent in that space as he quelled the influence of the Essendon forwards and produced some outstanding efforts on the last lines of defence.
He would also again prove to be a calming presence out there for Geelong, with his 13 disposals, four marks and three tackles all coming at crucial times for his team.
His ball use is another area of his game that has improved this season, as teammates now trust him to make the correct decision with ball in hand and hit those critical targets.
In the State leagues, budding forward Red Og Murphy continues to get valuable game time under his belt as he managed two disposals in the Kangaroo’s reserves side fell agonizingly close of a maiden win against the Northern Blues.
Meanwhile in the NEAFL, GWS rookie Callum Brown enjoyed a superb game in the Giant’s reserves win over the Canberra Demons as he claimed 11 touches, a tackle and a mark to go along with an excellent goal.
Giants reserves coach Adam Schnieder was extremely happy with the form of the Irishman post game saying “he is super, super quick, he’s starting to get the hang of it now, and when he runs forward, he’s very dangerous. I’m liking what I’m seeing.”
With a number of Irish players developing strongly, it is an exciting time for our cross coders as many look to push for an AFL debut in the coming weeks.
By Zac Standish