Irishman Barry O’Connor jokes that his Sydney Swans teammates couldn’t understand a word of his thick county Wexford accent in his first unofficial practice match, but the youngster has deemed last week’s hit-out a success.
John Longmire’s men broke into two teams at Lakeside Oval for a 60-minute match last Friday, paving the way for O’Connor to get his first taste of game time since arriving at the Swans last October.
The former Gaelic football star was invited to Sydney for a two-week trial in April last year and later agreed to terms on a two-year International Category B Rookie contract.
And while it’s likely his teammates will need more than just a pre-season to adjust to his proud Irish twang, the 21-year-old key defender believes his footy is on the right track.
“It’s really hard to understand me, especially when I’m fatigued,” O’Connor laughed.
“None of the boys know what I’m saying.
“But the practice match was good and I really enjoyed it. I had been through a fair few match-type drills with the boys, so I was semi-prepared, and it was great to be out in a real practice match for the first time. I had watched the boys train and play a few games already and it’s high-intensity stuff. It took a few minutes to get into the game but after I got going it was all good.”
A total of 17 Irishmen are on a 2020 AFL list and that number will rise if Adelaide signs Cathal McShane, who trialled with the Crows in January.
Four Irishmen landed at AFL clubs via last year’s draft when O’Connor signed with Sydney, Ross McQuillan and Cian McBride linked with Essendon and Luke Towey donned Gold Coast colours.
Eight of the 17 Irishmen at an AFL club have already made their senior debut in Essendon’s Conor McKenna, Geelong’s Zac Tuohy and Mark O’Connor, Gold Coast’s Pearce Hanley, Hawthorn’s Conor Glass and Conor Nash and Sydney’s Colin O’Riordan.
New Swan O’Connor says he’s channelling his Gaelic football strengths in his experiment as an AFL footballer.
“I’m trying really hard to figure out what it takes as a key defender. I’m trying to work on what I was good at in Gaelic football and apply it to AFL, so hopefully I become good in the air with my marking and my spoiling,” O’Connor said.
“They were my strengths in Gaelic football so hopefully I’ll be able to use those aspects out here.”
O’Riordan was like an on-field coach for O’Connor in last Friday’s practice match, following his moves closely in defence and constantly talking to his fellow Irishman.
O’Riordan made his AFL debut against North Melbourne in Round 17, 2018 and has now played 15 games.
The county Tipperary native is among a host of Sydney defenders, including Lewis Melican, Ryley Stoddart and former Hawk Kaiden Brand, hungry for more games at the top level in season 2020.
O’Connor says O’Riordan has been an enormous help during his first pre-season as a Swan.
“Col has been a great mentor and a good friend. He’s come from the same place as me so he’s been able to tell me what to do and how to go about it,” O’Riordan said.
“One of the biggest things he’s told me is to just stay positive when you’re struggling. The other boys have played all their lives so he’s told me to keep positive and keep focusing on my own game.”