We are now well over the halfway point of another exciting and unpredictable AFL season. The fortunes of the eight Irish players playing with AFL clubs have been mixed but overall their impact has been significantly more positive than negative.
The players are rated below on their performance relative to expectations at the start of the season rather than their actual performance as it is intended to provide an indication of how much improvement each player has shown in the 2012 season.
Pearce Hanley (Brisbane Lions)
Hanley has cemented his position as undisputedly the best Irish player in the AFL during the first half of the 2012 season.
He started the season in slightly inconsistent form which mirrored the overall performance of the Lions but the past number of weeks have seen a significant upswing in fortunes for the Mayo man with two near best-on-ground displays against the Western Bulldogs and Melbourne.
Now an indispensable weapon for the Lions, Hanley is progressing towards another high Best and Fairest finish. And there are even whispers of an outside shot at All Australian honours should his sparkling form continue.
2012 Grade (to date) – A-
Niall McKeever (Brisbane Lions)
As was expected at the start of the year, McKeever has been in and out of the Lions side.
Still learning his trade as a key defender, McKeever has been exposed at times but has also played his part in the Lions’ recent turnaround; memorably getting a touch on a goal-bound effort by the Eagles’ Jack Darling, after which his team went coast to coast, culminating in James Polkinghorne’s winning goal.
A towelling by Sydney’s Sam Reid last weekend will have disappointed McKeever and Michael Voss but is another experience which he must learn from.
2012 Grade – C+
Marty Clarke (Colllingwood)
A lot of publicity and interest surrounded Clarke’s return to the AFL and in many respects, he has embraced the challenge of re-acquainting himself with the oval ball with a degree of success.
In particular, his early season games underlined why Nathan Buckley was so eager to have him return to Australia. The tagging job he carried out on the in-form Brent Stanton in Round 5 drew praise from all quarters as he held the Essendon man to two touches in the first half.
However, recent weeks have seen Clarke struggle somewhat, culminating in a demotion to the reserves in Round 14. This would suggest he has work to do to cement his spot in the Collingwood line-up for the finals.
2012 Grade – B
Paul Cribbin (Collingwood)
The only Irish player currently at an AFL club that is yet to play a game, Cribbin has been making solid if not particularly inspiring progress in the Collingwood reserves.
A best-on-ground performance in the VFL at the weekend may provide Cribbin some impetus going into a crucial period of his development.
Collingwood’s lack of a recognised tagger, allied to Cribbin’s elite endurance and his more frequent appearances in the midfield for the reserves perhaps indicates he is being groomed as a specialist run-with player.
2012 Grade – C
Caolan Mooney (Collingwood)
Spectacular is perhaps the only way Mooney’s introduction to Australian Rules football can be described.
Recruited from County Down (the same county as clubmate Marty Clarke) last year on the basis of his freakish speed and athleticism, not even the most optimistic of observers could have envisaged how quickly he would pick up the game.
Some promising displays in the VFL, including a five-goal effort against the Coburg Tigers, culminated in his elevation to the senior list and a last quarter sub appearance against Fremantle in Round 14.
Mooney showed glimpses of his immense talent in his brief time on the field and it would surprise no one if Nathan Buckley threw him back into the fray a few more times before season’s end.
2012 Grade – A
Zach Tuohy (Carlton)
An ever-present in the Carlton line-up so far this season, Tuohy has continued to mature into a solid player at AFL level.
He has been employed predominantly by Brett Ratten as a lock-down small defender which is a role he has performed very well for the most part but has not allowed him the absolute freedom to carry the football and utilise his cannon of a boot.
Tuohy will be hoping the latter half of the season will allow him to get his hands on the footy a bit more, as he will be slightly disappointed with a season-high disposal count of 14.
2012 Grade – B+
Setanta O’hAilpin (GWS Giants)
A desperately disappointing year for big Setanta, who lasted just over a half of football in his debut game for the Giants in Round 6 before rupturing his ACL.
He had overcome early season injury troubles to make his bow against his old club Carlton and he managed to kick a couple of typically inspirational goals in the first half before disaster struck.
One hopes that his recovery goes well in the off-season and that he can return to add some much needed experience and physicality to the Giants’ forward line in 2013.
2012 Grade – N/A
Tommy Walsh (Sydney Swans)
Sydney gave up picks 35 and 68 in the 2011 AFL Draft to bring in Walsh from St Kilda in the off-season.
It was hoped that he would provide the missing link in a forward line lacking a true physical presence. To date, Walsh’s progress has been somewhat disappointing as he has managed just two AFL games in the red and white.
His debut against Melbourne in Round 8 provided plenty of cause for optimism as the big Kerryman kicked 2 goals and generally provided a marking outlet for the dominant Sydney midfield.
His second game against old club St Kilda did not prove to be near as fruitful and he was subbed off in the 3rd quarter having had just one possession. John Longmire has kept him on the sidelines since and with the Swans in such fine form, it is difficult to see Walsh forcing his way back into the side in advance of the finals.
2012 Grade – C