Monday 22 May 2017

Clean bill of health gives Hanley chance to make his mark Down Under

Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

TWO years ago, Pearce Hanley was wondering if the Australian dream was turning into a nightmare from which there was only one escape.

At the age of 20 and with two seasons behind him learning the Australian Rules football trade in Brisbane, he was already at a crossroads.

Injuries had wrecked his season, one succeeding the other with frustrating regularity until he reached a stage when he began to wonder if an oval-ball career Down Under really was for him. Maybe it might be better to book a one-way ticket to Ireland and resume his Gaelic football career with Mayo and Ballaghaderreen.

Last Friday night, Hanley was one of Ireland's better players in their record-breaking win over Australia in Melbourne and he will again be a central figure in the second Test in Gold Coast on Friday night. His AFL career with Brisbane Lions is gathering momentum all the time and he is already looking forward to the new season with a huge sense of optimism and ambition.

The big difference between now and two years ago is that his injury problems have cleared up, enabling him to drive on and impose his talents on the AFL.

"It makes a huge difference when you don't have regular injury problems. I had an injury-free year and I'm really happy out here now. I don't get homesick any more and, anyway, a lot of my friends are leaving to come to Australia," said Hanley.

His game is progressing all the time, but then he has been in Brisbane since 2007 when he first arrived as a raw teenager. The adjustment phase is always difficult for young Gaelic footballers who have to cope with a new game in a new country.

Still, he adapted quickly to the demands of AFL, although it took time to become accustomed to the oval ball.

"Once you do, it's all about using it properly under pressure and getting used to knowing where to run, how to use your body properly and how to tackle. You've also got to cope with taking tackles. You don't dilly-dally on the ball and you've got to be a good decision-maker. If you're not, you're going to be tackled. It's all about movement -- do that right and you usually stay out of trouble," he said.

Brisbane Lions finished near the bottom of the table last season but have one of the younger sides in the league, so Hanley is optimistic that next year will be much more progressive.

That's all in the future but, for now, he is concentrating on the second International Rules Test and completing a series win for Ireland.

With a 44-point advantage, it is inconceivable that Ireland could lose the series, but their comfortable position hasn't in any way diluted the squad's drive to win again.

"We were beaten in the two Tests last year -- we still remember that so we're definitely looking to try to win the two games this year," said Hanley.

He was happy with many aspects of his game last Friday, with kicking being the notable exception.

"I struggled a bit with the ball. I was kicking like the Australians," he said. And, since they were notoriously wayward, it's not a comparison any Ireland player wanted.

Brisbane's gain is Mayo's loss as, by now, Hanley would probably be a central figure in the green and red attempt to end the long All-Ireland drought.

"When championship time comes around, I wish I was at home, but I have a great life out here. If Ireland had Australia's weather it would be the best country in the world. You can't beat the weather, the beaches, the sea over here."

Still, the attraction of playing for Mayo again at some stage in the future will always be there, although it remains to be seen if it happens. Right now, his life and career are in Brisbane but he continues to keep a close watch on Mayo's fortunes.

"James Horan is doing a very good job with them so maybe the All-Ireland isn't far away. As for me playing for Mayo, I'm still only 22 so hopefully there are a lot of years left in my career. Down the line, I'd like to go back and see how I could get on with Mayo."

Irish Independent

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