Mark O’Connor thought Geelong coach Chris Scott was joking when informing the Kerry youngster that he’d be making his AFL debut tomorrow.
The 20-year-old Dingle native has been upgraded from Geelong’s rookie list to the senior squad for tomorrow’s round eight tie against Essendon at the MCG in Melbourne (10.25am Irish time).
O’Connor joined the Cats last October and only made his debut for the club in the Victorian Football League on April 16. His has been quite the rise given he has lined out in just four reserve games. O’Connor’s promotion to the top tier coincides with the long-term injury sustained by midfielder Brandan Parfitt.
“It was just sprung upon me this and I wasn’t even sure if Chris was being honest,” said O’Connor of his call-up.
“He just told me that I’d pretty much be playing at the weekend. I kind of laughed it off, but then he said he was serious. It is extremely overwhelming. I didn’t expect to make the jump so quickly and am very happy to have done so. I never expected it to be so soon. I was hoping I would do it this year and I thought I was pushing it at that. To get the shout this early, I’m thrilled.”
The 2014 and ‘15 All-Ireland minor medal winner with Kerry phoned his parents after leaving the coach’s office and while they hadn’t bargained for a 5am wake-up call, they were delighted with the news from Down Under.
“Dad was pretty groggy when he answered, but he was pretty up and about when I told him the news. It is unfortunate they can’t make it over, but hopefully there will be plenty of more opportunities.”
The goal now is to try and replicate the feats of previous Irish players who plyed their trade in the AFL.
“I read Jim Stynes’ book. And I’ve heard a lot about Jim back home, even growing up as a young fella. I saw his documentary as well. He was a very inspiring character. Tadhg Kennelly, who was ultimately responsible for bringing me over, was a big idol of mine. I really respected what he did. Hopefully, I can try and emulate those guys.”
Kennelly yesterday described the swift ascension of his fellow Kerryman as “incredible”.
“It’s an incredible achievement and an incredible story. He’s one of those players with fantastic composure. Everything around him looks like it’s going in slow motion. He’s very calm and that’s what separated him in the U18s (minor) in Ireland — every time there was a big moment, he was the one that took over the game. He’s got a great temperament.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved