Something tells you Pearce Hanley might never come home to wear Mayo colours again.
He as much as admits it himself. “As soon as Championship comes around, I’d love to pull on the Mayo jumper again. How I could make that happen, I’m not sure. I’m the leader at the Brisbane Lions and I hope to be in the captain’s group one day so for me to leave that would be very hard.
“We’re building something very special (they finished 15 of 18 teams in this year’s AFL ladder), so while I love Mayo and would love to go back I’m not sure how that would happen. I wouldn’t rule it out but it would be hard to see me doing it.”
That jumper reference gives you an indication of just how much the 26-year-old has immersed himself in Australian life.
His accent wavers a little south on occasion too. But like Tadhg Kennelly embracing the country and its culture has presented him with plenty back. This past season he just missed out on the All Australian team just 12 months after signing a new five-year contract. Often regarded as the missing link for Mayo, there would be a weight of expectation on Hanley were he to return. He, though, insists he wouldn’t feel it.
“It wouldn’t if I didn’t see them losing by a point in an All-Ireland final or just losing in a replay that they probably should have won. Looking at that, I reckon I could make a bit of a difference, well a two-point difference anyway but you never know. I made my decision, I love Australia, I’m having a great time and I’ve got to live with that.”
With no shortage of frustration, he saw the classic semi-final games against Kerry. He’s his own unique expression to describe what Mayo need to do to capture an elusive All-Ireland title. “Obviously, they’re enjoyable games when it comes to Kerry and Mayo. That’s the way the game should be played, a good open brand of football. It’s unfortunate for Mayo because they have a very good team and work very hard. I think they deserve an All-Ireland, they just need the finishing touches or a bit more s*** about them when it comes down to the final 10 minutes,.”
There’s an unmistakable air of confidence about the Ballaghaderreen man. Not to the extent of arrogance but he knows what he’s all about. Mention facing his Lions’ team-mate Tom Rockliff this morning and he says almost deadpan: “If I get to run him down and push his head into the ground I’ll be happy with that as well!”
Hanley is used to high stakes. He earns approximately AUS$350,000 (€240,000) a year. He must give bang for his buck — and regularly.
“There’s always pressure. Week to week we play and there’s a lot expected. It is professional and there’s a lot of money pumped into it, we do a lot of training, we train for six months before our first game.
“It’s very intense and the players put pressure on ourselves because we want to make finals, and if we don’t make (those targets) it means you have to come back fitter and stronger next year.
“There’s pressures coming from every angle in professional sport. But that’s what you sign up.”
Hanley’s position in the Irish group gives him an opportunity to contrast and compare the differences between AFL and elite Gaelic footballers in terms of strength and conditioning.
“Physically, I reckon the boys are going to show on the week that Ireland has bridged the gap. While it’s still an amateur sport in terms of professional, strength, speed and fitness, the Irish boys have bridged the gap and have moved closer to professional athletes. I wouldn’t stand out in terms of toughness or in fitness, so it just shows.”
Do they deserve more for what they put in? For Hanley, it’s a no-brainer. “It definitely justifies something. When it comes to professional sport and money, it’s the revenue what you can build up and pay the players. Obviously, you’ve got stronger counties than others and how you would do it I’m not too sure but I’d like to see the players rewarded for their efforts.”
International Rules test: Australia v Ireland, Patersons Stadium, 5.45pm Perth time (9.45 am Irish time) Live TG4
A defeat for Australia in Perth today would be unthinkable in the sense that so much of their best and brightest feature on their match-day panel. In front of a full house in the Perth suburb of Subiaco, it would be quite the blow.
Yet there are a number of reasons why they might not stop the rot that’s set in these last few years. There’s the fact they only met up for the first time last Sunday night and have had little time on the field playing with one another. The loss of Nathan Fyfe to injury is another concern. Then there’s the determination of the Irish side to pull off what would arguably be their greatest achievement in the series. As Michael Murphy said yesterday when asked if winning this year would mean more than last, “If we look at it on the whole, any series that we win, for us as an Ireland team we always really, really celebrate it and we find them a great, great sense of achievement but I suppose this year with the one-off test, the one-off game, there’s a huge amount riding on it for both sets of teams. With the build-up to it now, there has been more hype surrounding the game too and players feed off that too.”
However, on top of having at his beck and call most of the best the AFL has to offer, Alastair Clarkson has been assisted by a set of rule changes that will only handicap Ireland further. That all kick-outs must now pass the 45 metre line will suit the Australians who are better fielders, especially their totemic ruckmen.
The increase of the number of consecutive hand-passes to six will also benefit them when they will hope to keep as much of their kicking to the scoring zone. Add in that more interchanges are allowed and you wonder just how much did the GAA concede when they agreed to the rule alterations earlier in the year.
Ireland will hardly do themselves an injustice. They may not have many of this year’s All Stars but they can boast so many players suited to this game and more than capable of holding their own in the physical stakes.
However, when not only the quality of those they face but the rules they must play by are changed there are bound to be repercussions. A narrow if exciting nod to the hosts.
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