Irish Watch Season Reviews – Part One
What a season it was.
27 weeks of action packed footy led to the Tigers claiming their second premiership in three seasons, demolishing the young GWS Giants on Grand Final day by a whopping 89 points.
Richmond wouldn’t be the only success story however, with the rise of the Lions and Dogs filling the league with excitement whilst the Teague Train saw belief finally restored at Carlton.
In what was a fantastic season, another fascinating but often overlooked sub-plot was the continued development of the AFL’s international players.
2019 was a groundbreaking year for football’s foreign players, with its Irish contingent in particular experiencing a number of breakout seasons.
From the run and dash of Conor McKenna to the grit and determination of Mark O’Connor, we saw a new generation of European football stars come to the fore.
This season saw eight Irish players feature at AFL level with four managing to put together 15 or more games.
Along with these eight a number of other players managed to have an impact at state level, placing further demands on Irish talent moving forward.
Let’s go through them one by one and analyse how they went in 2019.
Callum Brown – GWS Giants
Coming over from Ireland in the aftermath of the 2018 season, it’s been a period of growth for the 19 year old from County Derry who excited many in his first season at NEAFL level.
Featuring 19 times in the Giants reserves side, Brown would show excellent improvement throughout the season with his pace and athleticism particular highlights of his game.
Starting the season as a half forward, the young Irishman would be moved to defence at the midway point of the season, as the Giants looked to use his athleticism and speed to give them that run and dash off the half back flank.
The quick utility would average a respectable 10.8 disposals and 1.4 tackles throughout the season whilst also slotting seven goals.
He would also produce one of the highlights of the NEAFL season, as in a match on the Gold Coast he would pick up the ball across half back, receive a one two handball and go on a booming run through the middle of the ground before slotting a goal on the run from 50 metres out.
It’s moments such as these that have the Giants extremely excited, as he looks to develop into an AFL quality talent in the coming years.
Stefan Okunbor – Geelong Cats
Another exciting youngster, Stefan Okunbor produced some eye-catching performances in the VFL this season with his speed and class particular highlights of his very raw game.
Recruited by the Cats at the end of 2018 as a Category B rookie, Okunbor has not put a foot wrong in his brief career, jumping head first into his development into an Aussie rules footballer.
Playing a host of different roles, Okunbor would settle into the side playing in eight VFL matches in the back half of the year.
This would include a strong performance in round 15 against Sandringham where he would recognised in the bests for the first time in his short career.
He would then go on to register his first goal just three weeks later to cap off a solid debut season as a professional footballer.
Darragh Joyce – St Kilda
It was a solid third year for key defender Darragh Joyce, who after making his debut last season was able to add three games to his AFL games tally in 2019.
Playing as a tall down back, Joyce showed great promise with his defensive work all season, as Sandringham (St Kilda’s VFL affiliate) looked to him as their primary stopper on some of the VFL’s best forwards.
Along with his work down back, St Kilda looked to use him as a swingman at stages towards the end of the VFL season, as he managed to kick five goals in the last three games showing his verstality.
His consistent VFL season was rewarded with a strong poll in the side’s Best and Fairest count, where he finished third, further re-affirming his potential as a future contributor for the Saints.
When playing in the AFL, Joyce showed good signs is in his three games, playing his role well and seeming assured at the level.
In a small sample size, Joyce would average 14.7 disposals, 1.7 marks and 1.3 inside 50’s across his three games, playing as a third tall in the Saints backline.
Joyce’s solid season would see him rewarded with a new contract that ties to Moorabbin until the end of 2021.
Conor Nash, Hawthorn
After playing the final five games of 2018 there were high hopes for Conor Nash heading into the 2019 season, as the Hawks looked to rejuvenate their forward line with young, developing players.
Beginning the year as that third key forward, it was a struggle at times for the young Irishman as he had problems really hitting his gear and finding his feet at the level throughout the first six weeks of the season.
This would see him lose his place following the Hawks Easter Monday loss to the Cats, as he had only registered eight marks and two goals in six matches.
With his season at the crossroads, Nash would show his determination and fight, responding strongly from losing his place in the side.
Playing four games with Box Hill through the middle of the year, the Irishman went back and really honed his craft as he really began to take control of games and build his confidence.
Nash would return to the Hawthorn team in round 15 and hold his spot for the rest of the season, as he managed to translate his good work from the VFL into his AFL game and really cement a spot as the third tall in Hawthorn’s forward line.
His Round 21 match against the Giants in arctic conditions in Canberra was a testament to his hard work, as coming in as a late inclusion he commanded the Hawthorn forward line and ended up with a career high 16 touches and a goal.
A very athletic and raw talent, this was very much a learning year for Nash as he averaged 8.9 disposals and 1.6 marks whilst showing glimpses of being an exciting prospect for years to come.
Conor Glass, Hawthorn
The second Irishman on Hawthorn’s list, running defender Conor Glass added seven matches to his AFL tally in 2019 as he continued to grow as a footballer.
Blessed with excellent skills and an incredible running capacity, Hawthorn mastermind Alastair Clarkson looked to utilise the 22 year old in a number of different roles this season as the club began moving in a different direction.
Starting his season in the VFL, Glass would put together a string of good early season performances to earn a senior call up in round nine.
Putting together a string of seven games through the middle of the season, Glass would average a respectable 13.6 disposals, 3.6 marks and 1.4 tackles spending time down back, on the wing and even up forward at times.
He would also enhance himself as one Hawthorn’s best ball users, going at 78% efficiency over his seven matches at AFL level whilst becoming a lot more damaging averaging 244 metres gained a match (up from 196 last year).
The highlight of Glass’ season would be his performance in round 14 against Sydney, where he gathered a season high 20 touches playing across the wing and through the middle of the ground at times.
Similarly to Nash, it was a building year for the 22 year old as he developed into more of a utility and learned a variety of new skills which will without a doubt put him in good stead moving forward.
Part two coming soon…
Zac Standish – AFL Europe