WE SHOULD be slap bang in the middle of the run-up to the All-Ireland football final, but with the decider moved to July for the foreseeable, we’ll have a look at its closest living relative, which sees its semi-finals (which Aussies call preliminary finals, because the previous round is the semi-finals — it’s too convoluted to explain here) being played this weekend.
The first encounter takes place this morning at 10.50am and there is Irish interest — with the best import in the game from these shores since Jim Stynes at the heart of a Geelong defence when they take on Brisbane — in the shape of Zach Tuohy.
The Laois man will reach 250 appearances in 12 seasons of footie if Geelong make the final (he has featured in all but one of his club’s fixtures this season so only injury would rule him out of making that milestone if they win).
Tuohy spent the first half of his career Down Under with Carlton, joining Setanta Ó hAilpín there in 2009.
The 32-year-old has talked about returning home to finish his career playing Gaelic and with his contract up at the end of the season this will be the best chance of his career so far to become the first Irishman in the AFL to lift silverware since Tadhg Kennelly’s triumphed with the Sydney Swans in 2005.
Another Kerryman could be joining Tuohy on the rostrum if they do win the Grand Final tomorrow week for the first time since 2011.
Mark O’Connor first came to prominence during Kerry’s run to five in a row at minor midway through the last decade.
He only missed three games in the regular season at half-back alongside Tuohy but, despite helping the Cats to top the table by a wide margin, he was left out of their opening playoff game against Collingwood, although he did come on in the second quarter.
He is expected to start the game today and will probably be marking Brownlow medal favourite Lachie Neale. Neale was picked as the best AFL player in 2020 and is 2/1 to regain that title this year, but the Kerryman limited him to just 16 disposals (passes) when the two clashed in 2021 and his detail on him could decide the result.
There are also two Irishmen on the Brisbane roster, but neither will see any action today.
O’Connor’s fellow Dingle man Deividas Uosis (of Lithuanian stock) is only in his first year of a two-year rookie contract, while Dubliner James Madden has had his season curtailed to just two appearances because of an ankle problem.
The other semi sees Ballygiblin man Mark Keane’s former side Collingwood take on the Swans.
Another man who made a big impact when returning back to Ireland during Covid (his Tipp side overcoming Cork after Keane helped the Rebels dump out Kerry in 2020), Colin O’Riordan has been a strong influence for the Sydney side (named clubman of the year last year), however a hip injury has hampered him, curtailing his season to just five starts.
He will not feature tomorrow and indeed has decided to leave the game at the end of the season, although he will be staying on in the Aussie capital. Wexford’s Barry O’Connor is also with the Swans but his future is uncertain as he has not found favour with the coaching staff there.
While the ladies game (not yet midway through its regular season) has rightfully received plenty of coverage on TG4 with highlights packages and live matches, the men’s game has had scant airtime, so it might take a bit of an effort online to watch the semis, which are thrown in at 10.50am today and 7.45am tomorrow.
Geelong are on a 14-match winning streak winning four of their last five meetings with the Lions. They are 1/3 to win today and 11/10 for outright honours. Brisbane are 8/1 outsiders and 11/4 to win today.
Tomorrow’s semi is expected to be slightly closer, with Sydney 4/11 and Collingwood 2/1. They are 2/1 and 5/1 respectively in the outright market.