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Zach Tuohy now one of the top Irish players in Australia

Laois man believes formidable array of players on display will attract public interest

Zach Tuohy during Ireland International Rules training in Melbourne, Australia. Photograph: Getty Images

Since leaving Laois to make his AFL debut in 2011, Zach Tuohy has gone about the business of becoming one of the top Irish players in Australia with an unflashy focus that has saw him feature in Carlton’s top 10 players for three of his last four years, as well as on the Coaches’ Association team of the year in 2015.

The move to Geelong for this season has enhanced his reputation as one of the best defenders, and he played more minutes for his new club than anyone else and was on many people’s All-Australian list.

Like a lot of Irish players he operates in the half-back area and can get forward quickly. His value as a player to Joe Kernan’s team would be undeniable and yet it’s his knowledge of the Australian game and their top players that makes him especially useful.

As former Ireland coach John O’Keeffe said about Tadhg Kennelly, he has the two codes locked together in his head. It helps that two of the opposition’s top players, Joel Selwood and Patrick Dangerfield, are club mates at Geelong, and the home head coach, Chris Scott, is also there.

Tuohy is asked about his role as a spy: has he been in particular demand?

“A little bit. Less specific about Scottie but more about how the AFL lads play and how that might transition. I don’t know for sure how they will play, but I have a reasonable idea. I know how they train and what their mentality is.”

He sighs at the suggestion that the future of the International game is – again – up in the air, but believes that the formidable array of players will attract the public.

“Yeah, it’s always on the chopping block. Interest is starting to build because of the quality of the team they are sending out in the last couple of series. For those who don’t know back home, this team is pretty much the cream of AFL.

Big names

“These are all the big names. The interest is certainly growing. I don’t know what the crowd will be, but I’d expect it to be pretty healthy. If they and we keep putting strong teams out I don’t see why it shouldn’t survive.”

Despite the veiled and not so veiled statements about Australia using their physicality to put Ireland off their stride, Tuohy does not believe that the series, restored to two tests for the first time in four years, is better disciplined.

“Clearly it went too far a few times. In 2006 it was really bad. That’s a bit silly. It probably is a bit more physical than either game is individually, but I don’t think it will spill over.”

Six years into his career in the AFL, he recalls the main challenges he faced as a raw recruit.

“When I came here I had never played anything so structured. The game might not be as big in that area now. I found it very hard to figure out where you are supposed to be in any given situation. In AFL you have a position to be in and it took me a good year to get comfortable running out, talking about game plan and all that. That was the hardest part for me.”

Given that his spell as Carlton was going steadily along, he elected to make the move to the Cats.

“Yeah, it’s always a big decision to change clubs. When the time came to move I was really keen to get to Geelong. They have been highly competitive for a long time, so they have had sustained success.”

Four caps

Tuohy is also one of the most accomplished international players at Joe Kernan’s disposal with four caps behind him and another two on the way. He knows that at this stage there’s more on the road behind than is rushing to meet him.

“I’m only 27 so I have a little time left. I’m getting towards the back end so I really want to have success. The move has gone well. I like Geelong as a town – good for me and my family and that transfers on-field.

“I’d like to go back and play with Laois at some stage. I’ve never played senior championship football with them, so that’s still on the cards as long as my body is still fit and able come retirement. That’s still what I plan to do, but I don’t know about how things will work out yet.”