Pearce Hanley: ‘It’s my only opportunity to get among the best footballers in Ireland’

"HEARTBREAKING”. Pearce Hanley has no better way of describing Mayo’s close-run All-Ireland finals these last four years.

Pearce Hanley, left, Niall Grimley, Sean Powter and Conor Sweeney, right, during Ireland International Rules squad training.

Of course, he’s imagined himself there. Of course, he’s considered the possibility he might have made a difference had he stayed at home instead of developing a successful AFL career over the past decade.

Regardless, Queensland’s sun-kissed Gold Coast is where he calls home now, “a house on the beach” to be a little more precise. It’s where he earns a living and where, to put it bluntly, he is paid to play ball.

His admiration for his Mayo brethren’s fortitude holds no bounds. “I love watching them play but obviously it’s hard to watch because we always come so close and just can’t get over that final hurdle. There are always a lot of what ifs when I’m watching and I’m sure it is the same for Mayo supporters as well but I guess that’s just happened... I’ve come out here. The boys back it up every year and I couldn’t be prouder. Hopefully now next year they can go one step further.

“They’re a special bunch of lads. I’m not sure what it is (on All-Ireland final day). I haven’t been around the panel... if I had the answers I would have told them already. They’ve a lot of good, young footballers coming up through the system so hopefully they can add one or two to the team they have already who can step up and play a bit of football and they might win an All-Ireland.”

Hanley, who turns 29 next week, was obviously elated for his fellow Ballaghderreen man Andy Moran claiming the footballer of the year award last Friday.

“I pretty much looked up to Andy all my under-age football and Andy Moran was the man in Ballaghaderreen and Mayo so to see him at 34... I think it was the first proper kind of pre-season he’s had when he hasn’t been injured or something wrong with his body. Maybe that is the answer, that if he was fit the last five years maybe they would have won one. It was great to see, a great reward. He’s a super character and I couldn’t be happier for him.”

Tragedy brought Pearce and his brother Cian (who was previously on the books of Hanley’s former club the Brisbane Lions), back to their hometown earlier this year when their teenage sibling Tommy passed away following an illness.

“That will always be felt. We’ve got a strong family and we dealt with it. We knew the news was coming and we dealt with it. We support each other so we were able to deal with it pretty well and move on with our lives but it’s going to be tough for everyone.”

Cian, Hanley expects, to make a name for himself next year after the 21-year-old who was delisted by Lions overcame a bout of injuries.

“For the first two years he was riddled with injuries but he played last year so after missing two years of football he didn’t set the world on fire but it’s a good base and I think this year he’s going to have a breakout season. I think everyone is excited about that.”

Hanley linked up with the Ireland panel in the Melbourne hotel on Monday evening having enjoyed an eight-week off-season. Injuries affected him as well this past season following his move to the Gold Coast Eagles but he is as confident as ever.

“Performance-wise, I still played some strong games and some strong footie towards the end of the year that I will look to build on next year. I’ve enjoyed my first year with the Gold Coast so I’m happy with the move.”

To be involved with Ireland is the closest he is going to get to putting on the green and red again. “It’s the only opportunity I have to get amongst the best footballers in Ireland. Obviously, I’d love to be playing for Mayo. The sense of pride that the Irish have in our country and our team is amazing. It’s something I don’t think you see here. The AFL is obviously a professional environment so you get paid to be there. The lads here, they just do it for the love (of it) so to be around that for the next two weeks I’m excited about and I can’t wait to run out with them.”

He has high regard for the Australian panel, but isn’t daunted by the prospect of facing them. “It’s pretty much as good as you can get, which is excellent to see them taking the series serious. I think they’re only missing one, Dustin Martin, the best player from this season. He’s a superstar. He’s taking it off because obviously he’s had a big year. Apart from that, they pretty much have their best team.”


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