‘He does things every week that take us by surprise’: Kerry’s Mark O’Connor making waves in Australia

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Former Kerry footballer Mark O’Connor has won high praise from his Aussie Rules head coach.

O’Connor’s performance against reigning champions West Coast was reported as “arguably his best game for Geelong”, who he joined as a rookie in October 2016.

Having only played seven games in the previous two years, the 22-year-old defender has now started all six of Geelong’s games this season, with their five wins putting them top of the AFL standings.

Sunday’s game saw him produce a personal best number of kicks (13), marks (nine), and disposals (21), but one play, in particular, drew acclaim from the crowd, as well as Geelong coach Chris Scott.

A retreating O’Connor gathered the ball in front of his own goal, before outsprinting two would-be tacklers to clear the ball, at full speed, to a teammate 50m away… and on his weaker left foot too.

“He’s really improving,” said Scott.

He’s still got some improvement left in him, but he does one or two things every week that take us by surprise to an extent.

“It shouldn’t really because we picked him early on in the year on the basis that he was clearly in our best team.

“We had confidence in him, but he’s really outperformed, especially over the last couple of weeks.

“The part we’re thinking about with Mark now is how he can continue that progression — and it might just be that he’s not a permanent defender long term.”

Speaking about O’Connor’s standout ‘leftie’ moment against West Coast, Scott said: “When you see that, you wonder why he kicks on the outside of his right foot as often as he does. But he’s improving.

“Symbolic of our footie club at the moment, he’s not getting ahead of himself. He understands that the game’s hard.

“It’s nice to ride the momentum when things are going your way. But when it inevitably turns and there are some tough times, that’ll be the challenge for him to make sure that he hangs in there.”

A dummy handpass, before picking out a teammate with another perfect kick, this time on his right foot, was another highlight from an impressive outing.

His teammate Esava Ratugolea, who also signed for Geelong in 2016, praised O’Connor’s hard work for making his improvement possible.

“I’m glad you asked about that, because I saw that today as well,” Ratugolea told Fox Sports.

“Today was a glimpse of how good he can be, because I know he can get a lot better.

“I knew he could do this.

“Ever since he came to the club, he’s just put his head down and worked. He knew he had a lot to work on and he’s just been doing that. He’s one of the hardest workers I’ve seen off the field.

To see him come out and produce the footy he has this year, I’m just so proud of him.

It’s another milestone for O’Connor, who kicked his first AFL goal in March.

The Dingle-native won two All-Ireland minor football titles with Kerry in 2014 and 2015, captaining them to the latter title, as well as winning two Hogan Cups with Pobalscoil Chorca Dhuibhne.

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