The Look of the Irish in 2012 – Part 2 of 2

This article concludes our two-part analysis of all the Irish players in the AFL in 2012.

Part 1 previewed the first four Irishmen’s prospects for the coming year and included the Brisbane Lions’ Pearce Hanley and Carlton’s Zach Tuohy. These are the remaining Irishmen to watch in 2012…

Marty Clarke (Collingwood)

Collingwood’s prodigal Irish son has returned for a second bash at the AFL having spent the last two years at home playing Gaelic Football with County Down.

While Clarke always proclaimed his desire to return to Collingwood at some stage, his return brings with it pressures that he would not have experienced in his first incarnation as an AFL footballer.

The Magpies gave up their first pick in the National Draft to bring Clarke back to the club (in a deal with GWS Giants that also included youngster Jamie Elliott) and he will have to deal with the heavy expectations that such a costly price tag brings.

However, we saw first time around that Clarke is well equipped to prosper in the AFL and one would think that he will be able to re-adapt quickly to deal with the rigours of the oval ball game once again.

Prospects for 2012

The retirement of Leon Davis has opened a spot in the Collingwood back-line for a creative rebounding defender which Clarke has the skillset to fill.

His skipper Nick Maxwell has spoken of the prospect of Clarke playing further up the ground, and with injury clouds hanging over the likes of Ben Johnson and Alan Didak, this pre-season talk could turn into a regular-season reality.

All of this indicates that there are spots available in the Pies’ lineup. The half he played on Saturday against Melbourne had all the hallmarks of a man trying to shake off the rust after the best part of three years away from the game and he should be better for the hit-out. It will now be interesting to watch Clarke throughout the rest of the pre-season to see whether that rust falls off and if he can live up to the substantial expectations surrounding him.

A good year if…

He manages to cement a spot in a quality Collingwood outfit and plays the majority of the games this year. With minimal pre-season game-time to date, it is difficult to assess where Clarke is at but reports coming out of the Magpies’ camp have been positive and on this basis, you would expect a significant impact from him in 2012.

Caolan Mooney (Collingwood)

Following John Heslin’s premature departure from Richmond after just six months in Australia, Mooney is the only new recruit to the Irish AFL corps in 2012.

Despite the fact that he has just turned 19 and has only been in Australia a few months, big things are expected from the young footballing prodigy from County Down, which is also home to team-mate Marty Clarke.

In fact, Clarke himself suggested that Mooney could emulate his own feats from 2007 and play in his first season at Collingwood, such is the pace and skill he possesses (see the video below of Mooney in action in a school game last year).

Prospects for 2012

By all accounts, the coaching staff at the Magpies have been hugely impressed with Mooney’s athletic capabilities and with the abundance of pace he has, it would be foolish to completely write off his chances of playing senior footy in 2012.

Selection for Collingwood’s first two NAB Cup games is a promising sign and he has shown glimpses of his immense potential in both matches but it is likely that Mooney will commence his Australian Rules career in the VFL. If he impresses there then who knows?

A good year if…

For most first year Irish rookies, a few games in the reserves to ease them into a steep learning curve is about all that can be expected.

However, such is the hype surrounding Mooney that one could conceivably see him coming into senior consideration at some point, especially considering the injuries sustained by Magpie forwards Andrew Krakouer and Brent Macaffer. Don’t rule anything out for this young speedster.

Greater Western Sydney GiantsSetanta O’hAilpin (GWS Giants)

With Kennelly’s retirement, Setanta now finds himself with the dubious honour of being the elder Irish statesman in the AFL.

His eight years with Carlton came to a close in the off-season as he was cut from the Blues’ list, with many Carlton supporters disappointed to see him leave after a number solid performances in a Carlton forward line lacking other tall targets.

The Giants picked him up at the tail end of the National Draft and Setanta will be looking for a new lease of life as an experienced head among many callow youngsters in Western Sydney.

Prospects for 2012

As part of the leadership group at the fledgling Giants, one would expect to see Setanta play every game this year, barring injury.

A minor knock has kept him out of the Giants’ pre-season games to date but he should be good to go for round 1.

It will be interesting to see how he adapts to a situation where he won’t be receiving gift-wrapped passes from Judd, Murphy et al.

A good year if…

He can ward off the injuries which have prevented him putting together a string of games over the past few years and provide leadership in a forward line which can expect to be starved of ball for long periods this year.

30-40 goals is probably unrealistic but it’s difficult to know how many goals would be considered a success until we get a bearing on how competitive the Giants’ midfield is.

However, if the Giants are to kick winning scores, the onus will be on Setanta to pitch in with more than his fair share given the lack of other recognised forward options.

Tommy Walsh (Sydney Swans)

The Swans gave up picks 35 and 68 to acquire the big Kerry man from St Kilda in the off-season.

It was a move that many considered to be a risk, given Walsh had not yet played an AFL game after two years at the Melbourne club.

While he cuts an extremely impressive figure on the training track, it remains to be seen whether Walsh has the ability and the smarts to play the power forward role earmarked for him at the Swans by John Longmire.

Prospects for 2012

The talented Sam Reid aside, the Swans are not exactly overflowing with tall forward options, which suggests Walsh will get ample opportunities to impress.

Adam Goodes and Mike Pyke are stopgaps best deployed elsewhere, while Jesse White, who could turn out to be Walsh’s main contender for a spot, has yet to convince at AFL level.

A two-possession half in the first round of the NAB Cup last weekend proved to be a less than auspicious debut for the Ivan Drago lookalike but he showed significant improvements in the big win against North Melbourne on Saturday. Swans fans will hope that his stats and performances will improve as he becomes more accustomed to the pace of the game and with his new Sydney team-mates.

A good year if…

All indications from the Swans’ coaching staff since Walsh was traded have suggested that he will get a decent crack at making the full-forward spot his own and it is up to him whether he grabs the opportunity.

At this stage of his development, Walsh will only consider the year a success if he can nail down a regular spot in the starting 22 and become a goal scorer and creator for the Swans.

His career in Gaelic Football (Irish Young Footballer of the Year in 2008) illustrates the immense talent Walsh possesses, but whether he can translate that to consistent AFL performances remains to be seen.