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Cats loss caps off bad week for sporting fairytales

Eamonn Sweeney


Ruthless Tigers put paid to Tuohy and O'Connor's AFL Grand Final dreams

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Zach Tuohy in action for Geelong Cats. Photo: Quinn Rooney

Zach Tuohy in action for Geelong Cats. Photo: Quinn Rooney

Zach Tuohy in action for Geelong Cats. Photo: Quinn Rooney

It's been a bad week for Irish fairytales. The dreams of Dundalk and the national women's soccer team were dashed on Thursday and Friday.

And on Saturday the most potentially stirring story of all was comprehensively scotched as Zac Tuohy and Mark O'Connor's Geelong Cats lost the Australian rules grand final 81-50 to the Richmond Tigers.

Of course, it was something of a fairytale to have two Irish players in the Grand Final at all given that before yesterday only three others - Jim Stynes, Sean Wight and Tadhg Kennelly - had made the decider. And at half-time, with Geelong leading 35-20, Tuohy and O'Connor looked likely to join Kennelly in the winners' enclosure.

Tuohy had been pivotal to Geelong's first-half display, getting on the ball, linking intelligently and failing by a narrow margin to emulate Kennelly's feat of scoring a goal in the big match with a long-range effort bringing one rather than six points.

O'Connor was seen to best effect as the reigning champions stormed back in the third quarter. His sterling defensive work included a remarkable eighth minute intervention as he robbed Jason Castagna with the Richmond player poised to score a goal.

Even this provided only a brief respite for a Geelong team who saw the match swing away from them in that fateful period. By the end of it Richmond led 47-44 and the fourth quarter of a textbook example of a great team ruthlessly imposing their will on demoralised opposition.

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Mark O'Connor in action for Geelong Cats, another former GAA player doing well in Australian Rules Football. Photo: Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images

Mark O'Connor in action for Geelong Cats, another former GAA player doing well in Australian Rules Football. Photo: Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images

Mark O'Connor in action for Geelong Cats, another former GAA player doing well in Australian Rules Football. Photo: Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images

Just the third team in the last 30 years to win three AFL titles in four years, the Melbourne side are a formidable outfit. They also have in their ranks one of the greatest players in the history of Australian rules.

If the final did not furnish the spectacle of an Irish victory it did give us the considerable pleasure of watching a master at work. Dustin Martin's four-goal haul saw him become the first player in history to win the Norm Smith Medal for man of the match in the Grand Final three times.

Two of those goals were low skidding 50-yard shots of a variety few rules players are able to produce. His final score, swung over from an almost impossible angle in the closing seconds, was an exuberant coda to a bravura performance.

A shaven-headed extravagantly tattooed 29-year-old, who looks like he's strayed in from a Mad Max movie, Martin's route to the AFL was not much less circuitous than that followed by Tuohy and O'Connor from Portlaoise and Dingle respectively.

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The man from the small town of Castlemaine left school at the age of 14 and worked as a forklift driver and with stonemasons and electricians before getting his break in the big league. He has become the Messi and Ronaldo of Aussie rules.

Another all-time great made his final bow on Saturday. A farewell victory for Geelong's Gary Ablett would have been a great sentimental moment. Not just because the man they call 'The Little Master' was ending a tremendous career but because he's had to cope with the suicide of his eldest sister three years ago and the current serious illness of his one-year-old son.

But top-level sport is not a sentimental business and just five minutes into the final Ablett dislocated his shoulder after a thumping fall to the ground. His return, with the shoulder heavily strapped, before the end of the first quarter seemed to inspire Geelong.

When Ablett was dragged to the ground as he bore down on goal in the third quarter the pain he'd been playing through became obvious. The reassuring smile he flashed his team-mates in the wake of his grimace spoke volumes about the character of a man who lost little caste in defeat.

The Grand Final is one of the great occasions in sport, a kind of Antipodean Super Bowl which normally boasts the biggest attendance at any game in the world. Even this year the 29,707 at The Gabba in Brisbane seem like a multitude in comparison with numbers almost anywhere else in Covid time. It was great to see an Irish involvement.

Zac Tuohy and Mark O'Connor have travelled over 10,000 miles from home and overcome ferocious competition to make it big in this most intense and physically demanding of sports. We should be enormously proud of their achievement in doing so.


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