Barry O’Connor will continue to the tradition of Irish involvement with AFL franchise GWS Giants, after signing a one-year contract for the Sydney outfit’s second team to play in the VFL next season.
O’Connor, a son of Wexford hurling legend George, had been released by Sydney Swans after the Covid-19 pandemic had halted his development having joined the Bloods in 2019.
He did enough as a key defender for the Swans’ VFL side to catch the attention of coaches at Sydney’s second franchise and will hope to use the opportunity as a springboard back to an AFL roster.
Former Cork hurler Setanta Ó hAilpín began the Irish story with the Giants having moved to the nascent franchise from Carlton, while ex-Cavan player and current St Kilda coach, Nick Walsh established his coaching credentials with them.
At present, Derry minor star Callum Brown is a member of the Giants list while the only man to win an AFL Premiership and a senior All-Ireland, Kerryman Tadhg Kennelly is on the coaching staff having previously worked with O’Connor at Sydney.
Meanwhile, on the AFLW side, Mayo trailblazer Cora Staunton led the way for a considerable Irish presence as the women’s League evolved and Cork’s Bríd Stack had two seasons alongside her former rival.
“I wanted to give it another crack and the Giants just seemed like the perfect fit,” O’Connor said.
“I haven’t been here long but everyone from the playing group to the staff have been so welcoming, so it’s been great and I’m loving it.” The 24-year-old added that all the Irish players in Australia knew one another.
“There’s not many of us out here so we’re a pretty tight-knit community. We all try and stay in touch, and I’ve had a few coffees with Cora and Bríd, they’re both incredible people and held in high regard at the Giants and back home in Ireland.
“I met (Callum) through the AFL system, and we’ve played against each other a lot so it’s great to be able to train alongside him.” Giants VFL coach, Wayne Cripps hailed the acquisition of O’Connor’s signature as a positive development for his side.
“We’re really pleased to have Barry on board,” said Cripps.
“Barry’s experience coming from another AFL and VFL program will be invaluable, and we’re confident he’ll play an important role for us this season.”