From Portlaoise to MCG

Portlaoise man Zach Tuohy will have a second chance to write his name in history when he steps on the famous Melbourne Cricket Ground on Saturday.

Tuohy seeks to become only the second Irishman, after Tadhg Kennelly, to win the AFL Grand Final as his Geelong team chase their first title since 2011 when they face the Sydney Swans, having lost at the same stage in 2020.

Kerry’s Mark O’Connor is on Geelong’s emergency list and may appear as an injury substitute.

It’s been a trip for Ma for Tuohy who, by a good deal of fate, will also play his 250th game in the NFL on Saturday, closing more on the mighty Jim Steins (264).

The former Portlaoise footballer initially made the move to Down Under in 2009 for a four-week trial with Carlton. Toohy was duly impressed and after a period of spell with the development club Northern Bullants, he was called up for seniors.

That followed five successful seasons with Carlton as Tuohy made his mark on the NFL as a solid defender and hit hard with an unerring penalty kick, but that ended in 2016 when a poor contract bid belied his status and ability as a defender. player, placed in front of him by the club.

“It was sub-par, very sub-par,” Toohy explained. “It was almost humiliating. It made it practically impossible (to survive). Perhaps I was a victim of circumstances.

“The club is going in a certain direction and that has been very clearly documented. I was very happy there, but it was made clear to me that I might need to look at my options.”

In terms of player movement, the NFL is in the middle between GAA and football. Transfers are not quite as rare and difficult as club switches, but they are not as regular and straightforward as football deals.

Moving from one club to another is a big deal in the NFL and Touhei had to make sure of his destination. Geelong was his favourite though it wasn’t a guarantee of him but a deal was made with Billy Smedts the other way.

Geelong had a better finish in the swap as Smedets struggled to integrate into his new team and only lasted one season. Meanwhile, Tuohy has gone from strength to strength and found himself in a club and place that he now considers his home.

“Geelong is basically a bigger version of Portlaoise,” he said.

“I love Melbourne, but Geelong fits me perfectly in what I used to grow up in. It’s a little slower paced, and a great city to have a family. It’s perfect for me.”

It’s a mutual appreciation with Tuohy so firmly established as a fan favourite, that local fans flew the Portlaoise flag in celebration last weekend after Geelong rocked the Brisbane Lions to secure their place in the Grand Final.

“That was great,” he said. “This has never happened before. It was a green and white flag that immediately caught my eye. It is my local team. I am very proud of where I come from.

“I am a Portlaoise man born and bred. This is my first love and first club. To see the flag, I think I will remember more next week provided everything goes well. It seems to be highlighting the full circle.”

This full circle would be completed with a win over the Swans and Geelong going into the game as the frontrunner, but Tuohy doesn’t take anything for granted, especially since he knows the feeling of losing at this point.

Geelong came out of the 2020 final, and they felt like they had left someone behind. They came out on the wrong end 81-50 against Richmond in a match that eluded them on a wet, humid day at the Gabba.

Leading by 22 points in the second quarter and looking on their way to deny Richmond their third Premier League title in four years, Geelong fell prey to a heavy fight in the second half and was comfortably seen at the end.

Tuohy is determined that this will not happen again.

“It is the absolute pinnacle of any player’s career,” he said. “It means everything.

“The Premier League has become an obsession for me in the latter part of my career the closer we get to it as a team.

“I’m really proud of the club I’m playing for, (it) gives me a chance to win it, and if it’s not, it won’t be.

“That’s why we’re playing and getting back on the big stage again is something I don’t take for granted, but I still appreciate that there’s a lot of work left to do.”

This starts at 5:30am Irish time on Saturday morning, with coverage available on BT Sport.