Setanta ready to take next step in AFL

SETANTA Ó hÁILPÍN is adamant his next club will reap the benefits of Carlton’s Irish experiment, after the club abandoned him after eight years.

The Blues cut Ó hÁilpín in favour of defender Paul Bower last month despite him playing a key role in the club’s finals campaign. While shocked and disappointed by the decision of Carlton coach Brett Ratten, the 28-year-old has already moved on and is preparing for his next AFL adventure.

“When I started playing, I was 20 years old,” Ó hÁilpín told the Melbourne Herald Sun.

“It’s taken me eight years and I’ve still got a lot of learning to do. I feel like I can improve and in terms of my body, I feel like I could play the next three or four years. Every year I’ve been improving, so that’s a good thing to take out of it. I feel like I have got a lot to offer.”

There has been interest from several clubs, including AFL debutants Greater Western Sydney, with Ó hÁilpín leaving it up to his manager, Michael Quinlan, to find the best fit for him in this month’s national draft.

“I’ve spoken to a few clubs,” Ó hÁilpín said. “I’m just going to leave that up to Michael and hopefully we’ll find out during the draft. I’m happy to go wherever it takes me. I’ve had a great taste of footy. I know what it’s about and I think people know I wear my heart on my sleeve and what I give is 100%. Some others might have a bit more talent but if you’ve got a guy that is willing to give 100%, you take him every time of the year.”

Ó hAilpin, who kicked four goals in the Blues’ Round 24 loss to St Kilda, holds no grudge against Ratten.

“He just told me there was talent that he hadn’t seen at the club and he was willing to go down that path,” Ó hÁilpín said. “I wished him the best, his decision is his decision, I’m not going to change it. We shook hands and that was it.”

A horror injury run didn’t help Ó hÁilpín’s season, which was limited to eight games after ankle and wrist problems.

“I was very unfortunate, really,” he said. “I played a NAB Cup game and did the ligament in my ankle, which put me out for eight weeks. I then played well in the VFL and got back in and played five games in a row before I broke my wrist, which was another eight weeks out. It was a stop-start year and I’d like to think I got the most out of it, considering I had two big injuries which cost me 16 weeks.”

Despite his shock exit, Ó hÁilpín only has fond memories of the club which took a chance on him back in 2003.

“I really enjoyed my time there, the supporters always backed me 100%,” he said. “Playing in the big games against Collingwood and Essendon, in front of 90,000 people, it’s a big honour to play with the Blues.”

Ó hÁilpín has no thoughts of returning home to Ireland while his younger brother, Aisake, who also had a brief stint at Carlton, is living in Melbourne and playing suburban football.

“I love Australia, it’s a great place to live,” Ó hÁilpín said.

Former Sydney star Tadhg Kennelly has been a great supporter of Ó hÁilpín’s throughout his 80-game career and has reassured him that he still has a lot to give in the AFL.

“Tadhg has been a big influence on my career. He rings me up after every game and offers me advice,” Ó hÁilpín said. “He was very disappointed but told me I had a lot to offer in terms of football and that he was sure I’d find a home.

“It was nice to hear those things. Hopefully it works out. “When I first came here on the rookie list they gave rookies a 3% chance of making it in the AFL,” he said. “So what percent does that give an Irish guy having not played the game? “It doesn’t give you much but I started with the philosophy that I would come out here and give it a crack and if it didn’t work out, I would go back home. I still think I have got a lot in me and I would like to keep pursuing it. Look, if I get picked up, I get picked up. If I don’t, I don’t, and I will just push on and enjoy life.”

“I’ll say a few prayers, a few Hail Marys.”

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