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Crunch time looms for the Irish in the AFL on and off the field

The AFL final series gets underway next week.

EIGHT TEAMS REMAIN as the AFL Final Series gets underway next weekend. Of the eight, one side will have a strong Irish representation. 

Geelong, who finished the regular season top of the ladder on the back of a 13-game winning streak, currently have two Irish players on their books. 32-year-old stalwart Zach Tuohy enjoyed another remarkable campaign for the Cats, playing 21 games.

At one point in the season, he was set to record seven straight games with 20 or more disposals until the stats recorder SuperCoach revised his total against Adelaide post-match, taking one off him to reduce his game total to 19. 

Per the Geelong Advertiser, Tuohy is set to resign with the club on a one-year deal. It was already confirmed last month Kerry’s Mark O’Connor has signed a new contract until the end of the 2024 season. Both are set to play in the finals. Geelong will host Collingwood on Saturday, September 3 at the MCG.

The series kicks off on Thursday, September 1 when Brisbane take on Richmond in an elimination final. Dubliner James Madden is contracted with the Queensland outfit until at least the end of 2023. The speedster has played two AFL games this season while impressing in the VFL reserve league. 

Kerry’s Deividas Uosis signed a two-year deal as a Category B Rookie in 2021 and is yet to make his senior debut. 

On Friday, September 2 Melbourne takes on Sydney in the second qualifying final. The Swans have two Irish players on their list although it is unlikely they will play senior footy this week. 2021 Barry Round Best Clubman and Tipperary native Colin O’Riordan has endured an immensely frustrating season. 

O’Riordan was sidelined early in the year for several weeks after he was poked in the eye during a VFL match. The 26-year-old returned and forced his way back into the senior side, making five appearances before a significant groin and hip injury flared up. 

As he was unable to run, O’Riordan was assigned a strength-based rehabilitation programme and off-feet conditioning work. This week the club confirmed it is unlikely he will be able to return to play this year. His present deal lasts until the end of 2022.

Wexford’s Barry O’Connor is approaching the end of his third campaign with the club. The key defender has shown promise in the VFL despite his development being hampered by the pandemic. As club budgets were cut back, the reserve league was scratched and development coaches were let go.

The other two final spots are filled by Western Bulldogs and Fremantle.

Meanwhile, several Irish players are approaching the end of their current contract. At Essendon, The42 understands Meath native Cian McBride is closing in on a one-year extension. 

St Kilda key defender Darragh Joyce’s current deal expires at the end of this season. The former Kilkenny All-Ireland winning minor captain is consistently superb in the VFL but has found first-team opportunities hard to come by, playing three games this year. It was confirmed in May Joyce is on the AFL unrestricted free agent list. 

Unrestricted free agents are players who have previously been delisted, are in the bottom 75 per cent of the club’s salary or have served 10 or more years at a club. They are able to move to a new club, without giving their current club the option to match their deal.

Hawthorn duo Fionn O’Hara and Conor Nash are both contracted for next year. Derry’s Callum Brown also recently agreed an extension with GWS Giants. 

Elsewhere, in terms of future recruitment, clubs continue to utilise a varied scouting network. At least two are outfits are currently searching for an Irish rookie for the 2023 season. There is still no sign of the AFL-organised combine returning, but mini camps such as the one organised in 2021 for potential recruits and attended by established Irish players, will continue. 

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