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Colin O’Riordan retires

Published 5 months ago 05th September 2022 by Big John

If hearts could really break, the World Health Organisation would have rushed plane loads of cardiac surgeons to Templemore last Monday morning when news of Colin O’Riordan’s retirement from Aussie Rules Football filtered through.

In lay man’s terms his hips are goosed and after meeting with a number of orthopaedic surgeons over the past few months, the advice was always the same: “keep playing AFL at professional level and you will pay for it later in life”. It’s the advice no professional athlete wants to hear and so the gut wrenching but sensible decision to hang up his AFL boots had to be made.

Does that mean we will see him back in a Tipperary football jersey again? The demands of Gaelic football are not as severe as professional Aussie Rules Football and while hope springs eternal there is a lot of water to flow under the bridge yet before any decisions on his future sporting career (if any) can be made. I wouldn’t be rushing out to buy a Tipp No 8 jersey with O’Riordan on the back just yet and for now his plans are to remain in Sydney for another while.

Colin retires with a fairly distinguished AFL career behind him. Over the years, 77 Irish players have made the transition from Gaelic Football to Aussie Rules and Colin is currently No 10 on the list of most capped Irish players. There is no doubt, given the regard that he is held in at Sydney Swans Football Club, he would have risen into the Top 5 if those pesky hips hadn’t forced him into early retirement.

In a recent interview with Sydney Swans TV, Colin said his debut game was the best night of his Aussie Rules career. At the time I wrote a piece on that game and while everyone is disappointed with his retirement news, I’m republishing that piece below which I hope gives an insight into the excitement we all felt when one of our own was finally making it big in the unforgiving world of professional sport.
“You’ll have to excuse me, I’m as black as a pony’s hole”. That was the introduction of a friend of ours to legendary Australian sprint coach, Nancy Atherton. Nancy was in Templemore tracing her Irish heritage and our friend had come straight from the bog after saving the turf.

We knew nothing about sprinting and I suspect Nancy knew less about saving turf but somehow the conversation flowed easily all night. She had won a Commonwealth Games gold medal in 1954 as part Australian 4 x 100m relay team. Injury prevented her from participating in the 1956 Olympics Games in Melbourne where her teammates went on to win Olympic Gold. Her father, Pakie Fogarty had left Curreeny, Kilcommon for Australia in the 1930’s and her aunt, Bridget had settled in Kilawardy, Killea. Although she had achieved a lot in her life, Nancy’s big regret was missing out on the Olympics in Melbourne.

John “Red” Kelly hailed from Moyglass, Fethard. In 1841 he was sentenced to 7 years for stealing two pigs and transported to Tasmania. When his sentence was served he moved to Melbourne, married and had 7 children including Edward who would later become known as Australia’s most famous outlaw, Ned Kelly. After a promising start to his career, Ned was eventually captured and hanged in Melbourne Jail in 1880.
Mick O’Riordan hails from Fethard and settled in Kilawardy Killea. To-date Melbourne had proved an unhappy hunting ground for people with Kilawardy and Fethard roots but on 15th July 2018, all that was about change!

The IPhone Rooster woke me at 5:30am. My first thoughts were “feck you Colin O’Riordan, this better be worth it.

I had planned to watch the game in the O’Riordan household. It’s a house that no visitor has ever left without being fed and although Imelda was in Melbourne to watch her youngest son make his Sydney Swans debut, her second oldest son Kevin, proved that the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree. As I drove the 3 miles from Templemore to Killea, I purposely connected the phone to the radio and played The Sultans of Ping hit, “Give him a ball and a yard of Grass”. The song title is a Brian Clough quote about former Nottingham Forest winger, John Robertson but I’ve always associated the song with Colin O’Riordan. Not only will he “give you a move with a perfect pass” but he is also, as Clough put it “a nice young man with a lovely smile”.

I mightn’t be the sharpest tool in the box but I was clever enough to realise that good players make good coaches so when 13 year old Colin O’Riordan rocked up for JK Brackens U16 training one night, I made a mental note to ensure that I would be involved in any team he was playing on for the next few years. He had it all skill wise, he had speed without being an express, his high fielding was a joy to behold, his will to win was second to none but yet it was his bitterness that I admired the most. He may have being playing against some good friends on the opposition team but for the hour the game was on, friendships were parked and the opposition became the enemy. When the game was over, friendships resumed again. It’s how sport should be and Colin had it down to a tee.

A minor football All Ireland medal went into his back pocket in 2011, followed by a minor hurling All Ireland medal plus a Munster minor football medal in 2012 and an U21 Munster Football medal together with U21 Player of the year came his way in 2015. A Tipperary senior football debut arrived at just 19 years of age and such was his skillset that it came as no surprise when Tadgh Kenneally offered him the chance of to try out at the 2015 AFL combine. Before he went, he got himself into the shape of his life spending countless hours learning how to kick and handpass an Australian football or a Sherrin as the Aussie’s call it. It was enough to impress Sydney Swans Football Club and a 2 year rookie contract was offered.

In his first year he made the 2016 NEAFL team of the year before a punctured lung and a broken bone in his back curtailed his progress. 2017 was steady without being spectacular but from the start of the 2018 season it was clear to all that an AFL debut wasn’t going to be far away. Outstanding performance after outstanding performance in the NEAFL meant that Swans first team coach John Longmire simply couldn’t ignore him any longer.

I arrive at O’Riordan’s and Kevin has the house made into a Sydney Swan shrine. I walk into the sitting room where 19 other early swallows had arrived decked out in the Sydney Swans famous red and white colours. I knew straight away that I was going to be watching the game in excellent company and I wasn’t wrong as the craic proved to be well above the national average.

Shakespeare was a great man for encouraging lads to grab an opportunity when it arose. In Julius Caesar he spoke of a ‘tide in the affairs of men that when taken at the flood leads to great fortune”. All of us who know Colin knew that he wouldn’t let this opportunity pass because he had the skill and the guts to take the tide at the flood. We would not be disappointed. When the stats are totted up at the end of the game Colin in named amongst the best players for Sydney.

Maybe it was a hangover from watching two games of Gaelic Football in the not so Super 8’s the day before but the first thing that struck me about the North Melbourne v Sydney Swans game yesterday was the sheer pace of the game and with a fast game you generally get excitement. There is so much we could learn from Aussie Rules that would improve Gaelic Football but it appears the powers that be only favour change when it puts a few extra bob in the bank rather than change a few rules that would make our once great game watchable again. The irony is if they changed the rules, banned things like blanket defences, limited the amount of hand passes while increasing the amount of steps you can take with the ball in your hand, the crowds would come back and the extra money would flow.

Some of the high catching yesterday was textbook stuff including 6 marks by Colin. But it was the kick passing that impressed me the most. Such was the accuracy of the kick passing I would not be surprised if I heard that William Tell was alive and well and coaching football in Australian schools. Even the hand passing is used as an attacking weapon rather than the “keep ball” tactic it has become in Gaelic Football.
Back in Kilawardy, the octane level rises every time Colin touches the ball and a Swans score is greeted like it’s the winning Tipperary point in an All Ireland Final v Cork. The women in the room inform us that Buddy Franklin is a fine specimen of a man and interestingly nobody disagrees. All heaven broke loose when he slotted his 900th career goal. Buddy may not have being on our radar before yesterday morning but now he is our favourite sports star in the world.

Colin is sporting a bandage around his head but a mere flesh wound was never going to stop a man, who played the last few minutes of an All Ireland Minor final with a broken pelvis, from performing at his best. There is an old husbands tale that players are ‘born’ footballers. When Colin O’Riordan arrived into the world he didn’t have “footballer” stamped on his forehead but through practice, skill and sheer determination, yesterday he looked like he was born to play Australian Rules Football. In the cauldron that is the AFL, the first gamer, as the Aussie’s call him, looked cool and calm and composed Swans lead by 13 points at half time but North Melbourne dominate the third quarter and the early part of the 4th and with just minutes remaining are leading by 7.

A Ben Ronke behind in the 27th minute brought the game back to 6 and a minute later Ronke equalised with his 5th goal of the day. Then with just 1.48 left on the clock Aliir Aliir (so good they named him twice) ran onto a loose ball and slotted home the winner for Sydney.
As we sat down to the fry, we were as happy as small children being taken to their first circus. Carlsberg don’t do perfect mornings but if they did……

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