Cats coach hails Irish AFL star O’Connor

Shayne Hope |

Geelong coach Chris Scott has almost tripped over his words in lauding Mark O’Connor’s football smarts and growing influence on the outcome of AFL matches.

The Irish midfielder was given a tagging job on Brisbane ball magnet Lachie Neale on Friday night and played the role well, contributing to the Cats’ 10-point victory.

It was O’Connor’s first game back at AFL level after a knee injury delayed his start to the 2022 season.

“It was a really good contest between two good players,” Scott said.

“Everybody knows about Lachie Neale; not as many know about Mark O’Connor.

“He’s an elite runner and he’s very, very smart for an Irishman.”

Laughing off the latter comment, Scott quickly clarified its intended meaning.

“For a guy that didn’t grow up playing AFL footy, he’s adapted to the nuance of the game particularly well,” he said.

“He’s one of our leaders and I thought he played that way tonight.”

Rather than deploy O’Connor in a pure shutdown role, Scott urged the 25-year-old to use his running power and hurt Neale offensively.

It worked to some degree as O’Connor registered 22 disposals and five inside-50s.

Neale still had an influence in traffic with 30 disposals, 21 contested possessions and 11 clearances.

“Lachie’s such a good player in tight … but what we didn’t see so much was him breaking the lines in space,” Scott said.

“You’ve got to find a way to get some pressure on him that way.”

Brisbane coach Chris Fagan was happy with 2020 Brownlow medallist Neale’s endeavour and persistence in a game where he didn’t have everything go his way.

“Sometimes you have to fight your own battles, which I thought he did really well tonight,” Fagan said.

“We try and get his teammates to block and screen for him wherever they can but the bottom line is the great midfielders play well when they get tagged.

“He had 30 (disposals) tonight and there was nothing wrong with his effort.

“He probably wasn’t as creative as he would’ve liked to have been – a lot of his stuff was under pressure – but he never stopped trying and it was that sort of game.

“He doesn’t complain, he just gets in and has a crack.”