Ready to fly: Irish Swan emerges from under Kennelly’s wing

As a child in Ireland, Colin O'Riordan used to watch the half-hour highlights package of the previous round every Saturday morning with his brother. It was his introduction to the game.

"I never thought in my wildest dreams I'd end up playing it," O'Riordan said.

Colin O'Riordan, from Ireland, will make his AFL debut for the Swans on Sunday.

Photo: Jessica Hromas

On Sunday, the Irishman will follow in the footsteps of Sydney premiership hero Tadhg Kennelly when he makes his senior debut for the Swans.

O'Riordan will hopefully, for his sake, carve out his own reputation but he already bears similar traits to Kennelly – and not because of their motherland.

Like the popular Swan, who is now a development coach at the club, O'Riordan is a dashing half-back who can turn defence into attack in an instant, at least at the lower level.


Long way from Tipperary: O'Riordan has got the nod for his first team bow.

Photo: AFL Media

O'Riordan does not know much about how Kennelly played. He was nine when he watched the 2005 grand final, and 15 when his countryman hung up the boots in 2011. He remembers Kennelly proving the doubters wrong when he returned home in 2009.

"It was something a lot of people said you couldn't do, it was something that inspired me throughout my early days as an AFL footballer," O'Riordan said. "He became more of an idol when I came out here and saw how everything worked and how hard it is to adapt to the game.

"He took me under his wing and treated me as if I was one of his own. He was a real father figure for me. Nothing but good things to say about him, to be honest. He's pushing on a bit now, he's nearly over the hill a bit at his age but he wouldn't mind me saying he knows that himself."

The 22-year-old learned on Tuesday he would be making his debut when coach John Longmire broke the news at a team meeting, sparking rapturous scenes in the Swans rooms.

His parents, Michael and Imelda, are travelling from Tipperary for his first game. They are due to land in Sydney on Friday night for a two-week stay.

They will have plenty of time to reflect on O'Riordan's unlikely path to the big stage.

A promising footballer back home, O'Riordan came to the Swans' attention via a scout who informed Kennelly. The Swans beat off Essendon and St Kilda for his services, drafting him as an international rookie in 2015.

New face: O'Riordan's parents will be in Australia to see their son run out.

Photo: AFL Media

O'Riordan had a solid first season for the Swans reserves even if "I wasn't playing too much to a system", he said. "I'll be honest with that I was just playing football," O'Riordan said. But he struggled last year with injury.

"I didn't grow up playing it so it takes a while to grow and adapt to the game," O'Riordan said. "I can safely say I love the game."

He made headlines at the end of 2016 after puncturing his lung during a NEAFL game in Darwin. Unable to fly, he made the 4000 km journey home by car, accompanied by the Swans' welfare manager Dennis Carroll and a paramedic.

"There's not much sightseeing. After the first 100 km outside of Sydney and outside of Darwin, there's not much else to see," O'Riordan said.

Colin O'Riordan taking the road home from Darwin to Sydney.

Photo: Supplied

O'Riordan comes into the Swans side with the club in the midst of an injury crisis. Jarrad McVeigh, Kieren Jack and Dan Hannebery are out from last week while key position prospects Sam Reid and Lewis Melican face another stint on the sidelines.

O'Riordan had not believed his coaches when they said he was close in recent weeks but he could smell a debut after McVeigh's injury.

"But when John actually told me I was absolutely shocked," O'Riordan said. "It probably still hasn't sunk in."

Andrew Wu writes on cricket and AFL for The Sydney Morning Herald

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