By Daragh Ó Conchúir
Zach Tuohy will join a select group when, barring any late mishaps, he will make his 150th AFL appearance, lining out for Geelong against Port Adelaide on Saturday.
The late Melbourne teammates Jim Stynes (264) and Sean Wight (150), and Sydney’s Tadhg Kennelly (197) are the only other GAA recruits that have reached this landmark since the so-called Irish experiment was unofficially begun by Melbourne with Wight’s recruitment in 1982.
In that time, only one other player actively recruited form Ireland by an AFL club has broken 100 appearances.
That is Pearce Hanley, who has accumulated the majority of his 142 outings for Brisbane Lions but is currently at Gold Coast Suns, where he is sidelined after having surgery on a recurring shoulder injury.
“It’s a fairly modest one in the grand scheme of things, but it’s
nice, I didn’t grow up with the game,” says Tuohy, 28, of the impending achievement.
A Leinster Championship winner at minor level with Laois in 2007, Tuohy joined Carlton in 2010 and established himself as an effective counter-attacking half-back with elite kicking skills that have contributed the compilation of a lengthy highlights reel of long-distance goals. He has scored 47 goals from his 149 appearances to date.
“It’s hard yards early” he said in a previous interview about the
early days. “That first two-week trial, I didn’t enjoy it. I hated every second of it and still, when I went back home, there was no doubt in my mind I was going to come back. Once I came back for the real stuff, as a player, I just loved it.”
Getting accustomed to the structured nature of Aussie rules in the AFL at that time took a little while but Tuohy soon established himself, playing on 120 occasions for the Blues, although the club failed to contend for the majority of his juncture at Princes Park.
That did not prevent the Portlaoise man shining however and he was named in the AFL Coaches’ Association’s All-Australian team in 2015, despite Carlton finishing the regular season at the bottom of the ladder.
He joined Geelong last year, brought in to take the place of Cats legend Corey Enright, a six-time All-Australian and triple Premiership winner who had announced his retirement. Undaunted, and surrounded by a better calibre of teammate, Tuohy spent more time on the pitch than any other Cats player in 2017.
He has exhibited tremendous durability and consistency, currently on the longest run of consecutive games among active players, with this weekend’s outing set to be his 120th in a row.
He is still a long way off the record held by Stynes, who became known as Mr Indestructible as he compiled an unbroken run of 244 games.
Interestingly, Tuohy was the first Irish-born player to line out for Carlton since Monaghan native Fred Scott in May 1904, with fellow Blue and former Cork hurler Setanta Ó hAilpín actually born in Sydney.
Using the same ‘Irish-born’ description rather than ‘GAA recruit’ leaves Wight out of the mix, as the former Kerry minor was born in Glasgow. It brings Stuart Magee into the mix however.
Magee was the first Irish-born player to play 200 games, finishing with 216 from a career with South Melbourne and Footscray between 1961 and 1975. He captained the latter to win the night premiership in 1970.
Born in Belfast, his parents emigrated to Australia when he was nine. Now 74, he is still a regular at games involving Western Bulldogs, as Footscray became rebranded in 1997.