Mark O'Connor now set for Dingle return after Grand Final joy

O’Connor is now set to swap the navy and white for the red and white of Dingle
Mark O'Connor now set for Dingle return after Grand Final joy

GRAND FEELING: Mark OConnor of the Cats celebrates during the 2022 Toyota AFL Grand Final match between the Geelong Cats and the Sydney Swans at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on September 24, 2022 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Mark O’Connor could line out for Dingle in next month’s Kerry SFC quarter-finals after claiming an AFL Premiership title with Geelong Cats on Saturday.

The 25-year-old was a late replacement for hamstring victim Max Holmes who he had also replaced during the preliminary final against the Brisbane Lions the week before.

Along with team-mate Zach Tuohy, who was playing his 250th AFL game, O’Connor emulated Tadhg Kennelly’s 2005 feat in winning a Premiership, trouncing his fellow Kerryman’s old club Sydney Swans, 133 points to 52, the sixth largest Grand Final victory in the history of the sport.

O’Connor is now set to swap the navy and white for the red and white of Dingle as he intends to bolster his home club's championship prospects. The two-time All-Ireland winning minor, who signed a new two-year contract with the Cats, could arrive in Ireland as early as next weekend. 

In 2018, he had to apologise to Geelong for playing in Dingle's county SFC quarter-final win over Austin Stacks and didn't play the semi-final but there are positive soundings he will have the club's blessing this time around.

On the wing on Saturday, O’Connor played most of the game, making 13 disposals, 10 of them kicks. He took six marks and made two tackles.

Speaking afterwards, O’Connor said a Premiership title was “always the plan” when he chose the AFL career. 

"It's amazing. Obviously, I'm delighted for Zach too, on his 250th (game). What he's done in the game has been super special, not only for Irish players but for Australian players too. It's a special achievement and I'm super proud of him."

The celebrations will continue in Dingle upon his return. ”As soon as the siren went, there was just that joy. That's so rare in life, that type of high. It was a pretty special experience.

"I probably struggled a bit throughout the year so the footy side of things was probably in the back of my mind for a while, unfortunately. But just having come through all that now and winning the way we did, it's just all been worth it. I just can't wait to go home and celebrate with my family."

He revealed one of his brothers flew in for the final. "He flew in last night and he actually got the last seat on the plane on the way over here. It was pretty lucky how it worked out and it's special to share this moment with him."

O’Connor was grateful for the opportunity he was given to play following Holmes’ setback. "As soon as the final siren went, thoughts went straight to Maxy. I was actually on the bench at the final siren and Maxy came down and I just gave him a hug.

"You don't wish that on anyone but it's been a squad thing and we have guys that are ready to go and fortunately I got the nod."

In a sweeping role, Tuohy’s distribution and tidying up saw him provide one of the best defensive displays in the final. He was on the field for 92% of the match, disposed of the ball 21 times, 17 of them kicks while he claimed six marks.

Draped in his club Portlaoise’s green and white afterwards, 32-year-old Tuohy mentioned the initial difficulties he had in Australia. “Every player has tough times, but I think the homesickness is a unique experience for the Irish guys. Although players shift states, you can’t even pick up the phone at all times to call your family because it’s the middle of the night.

“Even that alone I think people probably don’t appreciate how hard that can be. I’m lucky to be in the environment I’m in, but there were a lot of bad days early."

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