» Irish Experiment – AFL Season Recap

17 Sep

Irish Experiment – AFL Season Recap

Posted by Colm Duffy in The Irish Experiment | Sep 2013

Colm Duffy brings you part one of his season recap of the Irish players in the AFL, stay tuned for part two coming next week!

The Irish Experiment – AFL Season Recap

Irish on field interest in the 2013 AFL season finished at the weekend with Zach Tuohy and Niall McKeever playing their final games for the year. Some will enter the close season feeling satisfied with seasons of team and personal success, while for others frustration will be the overriding emotion as injury and other factors season’s ambitions remain unfulfilled.

Pearce Hanley – Brisbane Lions

The undoubted Irish star of the AFL season just past, and for many educated Australian observers the form of the Mayo man was one of the highlights of the year. Hanley lined out in 20 of the Lions’ 22 games, missing Round 5 because of suspension and round 18 due to a broken bone in his hand. Now deposed coach Michael Voss gave Hanley a roving brief for most of the year which saw him line out everywhere from his previously customary half back position all the way to the forward pocket, with most of his football played in between, either on the wing or through the midfield.

While his 2013 statistical totals may not appear markedly different from 2012 (average disposals only increased by 0.5 per game, average tackles by 0.1 per game), the noticeable improvement in Hanley’s game been his ability to kick spectacular and often vital goals and his uncanny knack of creating scoring opportunities out of nowhere. 16 goals in total for the season included many jaw-droppers and the highlight of his goal-scoring exploits is undoubtedly the match-winning three goal haul against North Melbourne in Round 16.


In spite of all of the plaudits Hanley received for his performances, the individual honours for which he was much touted managed to elude his grasp. He is considered by many to have been extremely unlucky to miss out on selection for the 40 man All Australian panel last week and he was also pipped at the post by back-to-back winner Joel Patfull for the Merrett-Murray Medal (the Brisbane Lions Best & Fairest award). He did have some success however as he won the Lions’ Fans Player of the Season award and it surely only a matter of time before the other aforementioned honours land on his mantelpiece if he can adapt his game to handle the increased attention he is now receiving from the opposition on the back of his outstanding performances over the past couple of years.


Niall McKeever – Brisbane Lions

It has been a week for Niall McKeever that in many ways mirrors his four years with the Brisbane Lions. On Sunday the Lions’ reserves picked up their second consecutive NEAFL Northern Conference title with McKeever playing a significant role for the second year in a row. Sport, however, can be a cruel mistress, and a matter of hours after the game it was announced that McKeever had played his last game for the club as his contract would not be renewed for the 2014 season.

It brings to an end four years in Queensland for the big Antrim man, however it has not come as a huge surprise, given he only managed three senior games in 2013 having played 19 in the previous two years. And while he was always combative and competitive in each appearance, the rise of young guns like Justin Clarke in the Brisbane defence meant McKeever was always going to face an uphill struggle to retain his position.

Many Lions fans have taken to Twitter to pay tribute McKeever’s time at the club, praising his work ethic, attitude and willingness to embrace a club and sport that was so unfamiliar until his move down under in 2009. He will perhaps be remembered most fondly for a fingernail intervention on West Coast Eagles star Jack Darling in the dying seconds of a game midway through the 2012 season which allowed the Lions to launch a final attack from which James Polkinghorne kicked a remarkable winning goal, a high point in a previously unsuccessful season for the club.


Tommy Walsh – Sydney Swans

For Walsh, the season’s high and low points came barely minutes apart on a wet and miserable Saturday afternoon in June at the SCG. In conditions more akin to a Kerry County League game in November, Walsh started just his second game for the season against the then high-flying Essendon Bombers and looked more comfortable than in any of his previous four outings for the Swans, gathering three disposals and laying a tackle in the first quarter.

However his game and season was cut cruelly short soon after as he suffered a horrific hamstring tear which has meant the subsequent months have been focused predominantly on rest and recuperation. His promotion to the senior side had been no fluke as his reserves form had been excellent and prior to his injury Walsh was prominent in both the goal-kicking and coaches’ votes charts.


With one more year left on his initial deal with the Swans, the Kerryman will be hoping his injury clears up in time for a full pre-season as more senior exposure in 2014 is a must if he is to prolong his AFL career. Coach John Longmire and the club are no doubt hoping that his promising pre-injury form perhaps suggests that Walsh could be a late bloomer similar to Sydney teammate and former Canadian rugby star Mike Pyke, who is now a cornerstone of the side having made his debut aged 25.

Check back next week for part two of our season recap, when we’ll be looking at how the season went for the likes of Zach Tuohy, Caolan Mooney and Martin Clarke.

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