Welcome to part two of our Irish Watch reviews of the 2019 season.
This edition will see us dissect the season’s of a number of up and coming stars who broke out into solid contributors at AFL level this season.
Colin O’Riordan, Sydney Swans
After debuting last season, 2019 was always going to be an important year for Colin O’Riordan as he looked to build on his progress and become a part of the Swan’s youth rejuvenation.
Despite only featuring once at AFL level in the first eight weeks of the year, O’Riordan would keep working hard with some dominant early season NEAFL performances seeing him earn a spot in the side for the Swans round 8 clash with Essendon.
From there he would blossom, improving every week and eventually becoming very important to the structure of Sydney’s side.
Playing across half back and the wing, O’Riordan’s toughness, athleticism and ability to find the ball were particular strengths of his game, as the 23 year old proved he has a bright future in the red and white.
The highlight of his season would come in round 11 against the Cats at GMHBA Stadium, as he stood up in football’s most hostile environment to have a major impact with 20 disposals, seven marks and two tackles.
O’Riordan would end up playing every game from round 8 to 19 before a calf injury resulted in a premature end to his breakout season.
However, having averaged a solid 14.1 disposals and 4.3 marks a match in 2019 it’s clear the Irishman has an exciting future ahead at Sydney.
Pearce Hanley, Gold Coast Suns
2019 was exactly the year veteran Irishman Pearce Hanley needed, as he finally managed to put together a period of solid, healthy football as a Gold Coast Sun.
After two injury ravaged years, the Suns were finally able to see what Hanley can bring to their young list, as he led the Gold Coast’s defence with class, courage and determination all season.
Playing in 16 of 22 possible games, Hanley showed his best isn’t behind him as he managed to average 20.5 disposals, 4.8 marks and 2.3 tackles a game.
One of few experienced heads in the Gold Coast side, Hanley’s ability to use ball well was critical with his teammates often relying on him to get their ball movement going out of defence.
In a tough year, Hanley was without a doubt a highlight for the Gold Coast with coach Stuart Dew using him up through the middle of the ground and even up forward for periods towards the end of the year.
This change in position would see him produce his best game of the season in round 22, as he had the ball on a string at Marvel Stadium gathering 34 disposals in the Suns 60 point loss to Hawthorn.
As the Gold Coast look towards a new era, Hanley is one man they will certainly look to keep around for 2020 and beyond as he continues to develop into a leader and have an influence on the team’s exciting young talent.
Zach Tuohy, Geelong
One of the more high profile international footballers, it was another solid year for Zach Tuohy who got over early injury setbacks to become a key pillar in Geelong’s deep finals run.
Coming into the season with a consecutive AFL games streak of 138, it would be a different start to the year as a preseason knee injury saw the 29 year old dashing defender miss the first five weeks.
Returning for the sides round six clash with West Coast, Tuohy would take a bit of time to adjust back to the pace of AFL footy as he looked to nail down a spot in a very strong Geelong defensive unit.
This would see his role change, as a bit of time through the midfield and even up forward saw the Irishman again become a fixture in the Cats side.
Renowned for his electric pace, elite skills and excellent decision making, Tuohy would find his mojo through the middle of the season with a 28 disposal performance against Port Adelaide in round 14 really spring boarding his year.
Finishing with an average of 19.4 disposals and 4.3 marks a game in 2019, Tuohy ended up being a very important cog in the Cats team.
His performance in September was particularly impressive, as he gathered 27 and 26 touches in the Semi and Preliminary Finals respectively.
One of Geelong’s best ball users, Tuohy will without a doubt be a pivotal player for the Cats as they look to make the most of this premiership window.
Mark O’Connor, Geelong
Coming into the 2019 season you would have been forgiven for not knowing young Irish defender Mark O’Connor, who had only seven AFL games to his name and was a fixture in Geelong’s VFL side.
Fast forward to the 2019 finals series and he has transformed himself into a regular in the Cat’s AFL setup and one of the most underrated small defenders in the entire competition.
Standing at 191cm and 87kg, O’Connor has been extremely valuable all year for Geelong with the coaching staff often tasking him with some of the AFL’s most dangerous small and medium sized forwards.
An extremely tough customer who’s defensive work and ability to read the play is first class, O’Connor was one of the finds of the season as he added an extra layer to Geelong’s elite defence.
Along with negating opposition forwards, O’Connor’s offensive game began to blossom as the season progressed, with his ball use and ability to get involved in attacking chains improving out of sight.
In 2019 Mark O’Connor played 23 games averaging 14 disposals, 4.5 marks and 2.7 tackles, as he became one of the games best and most reliable international players.
Now with a season of solid senior footy under his belt it is exciting times for O’Connor as he look to further develop into an elite defender and key contributor for this contending Geelong side.
Conor McKenna, Essendon
After establishing himself as an AFL standard player last year, Conor McKenna took his game to a new level in 2019 with his speed and skill seeing him become one of the game’s best running defenders.
The face of Irish football, every team is now on the lookout for the next Conor McKenna as the 23 year old dazzled crowds with his ability to run and create.
Together with Adam Saad, McKenna has made Essendon’s half back line the envy of the competition with opposition sides simply not equipped to stop their rebound from the back half.
Averaging 20.9 disposals, 2.6 marks and 1.5 tackles a game, McKenna was able to find more of the footy in 2019 as his teammates constantly looked for him to make things happen.
This would also allow him to run and carry more, as he ranked first in the competition for bounces and 15th in rebound 50’s, further proving the damage he caused on other teams.
As the season progressed we would also see McKenna venture up towards the midfield, with his round 23 match against Collingwood proving how far his game has progressed as he collected a career 35 disposals.
Easily one of Essendon’s most important players, in 2019 McKenna showed he has the potential to be a 200+ gamer player with his skillset invaluable in the modern game.
He also put on a show for the crowds, with his infusion of gaelic into the Australian game wowing the public on a number of occasions.
Having now officially broken out at AFL level, it is important for McKenna to continue developing and become the All Australian level player we all saw he is capable of being this year.
Zac Standish – AFL Europe