Late Wednesday afternoon at GMHBA Stadium in Geelong was a little quieter than usual.
A full training day had been followed by most players fanning out across the region for junior club night where wide-eyed footy hopefuls from Leopold to Anglesea got to meet their footy heroes.
Back in Geelong, there was a similar story unfolding, albeit one with a twist.
Cats assistant coach Shane O’Bree walked into the players locker room looking for Irish recruit Oisin Mullin. Mullin, a two time young GAA footballer of the year back home in Ireland had finally landed in Australia after initially signing with the club in later 2021.
A chance meeting with a handful of Geelong players on their end of season trip was the final piece of the puzzle in getting the Irish prodigy to pack up and head to the other side of the world as the latest in a long line of Irishman trying their hand at the Australian game.
With just three VFL games, and three Australian Rules games in total under his belt, O’Bree had asked him to come across to match committee meeting for a ‘quick talk’.
It’s about 100 metres between the two areas and while he didn’t know what to expect, the sight of a smirking Mark O’Connor in the room gave it away.
“As I walked in, I saw Mark O'Connor with a smirk on his face inside the door and a room full of coaches, so I had the feeling something was up,” he laughed. “I was told if you ever get called in there it's either going to be your first game or your last game.
“It was pretty special to have Mark in there to tell me, so it was enjoyable.”
Whether pessimism is a deep-seated Irish trait is unclear, but Mullin’s sister Susan asked him the same question when he told her over the phone later that day that he’d been called into the coaches’ room.
“Did you think you were going to get fired?”, she asked.
Teammate Zach Tuohy, himself now just four games behind Melbourne icon Jim Stynes for most AFL games played by an Irishman presented the 22-year-old Mullin with his guernsey before the game, a moment that clearly meant a lot to the 260 game premiership player.
“It's a huge deal for anybody to play a single game of AFL,“ he said, “I think we can all appreciate that, but to leave home, to play a sport you've never played, I think I can confidently speak on behalf of your family and say everyone will be very proud and Club and County football back home is important to the Irish guys and if everyone back home saw how you've conducted yourself, I know they'd be even more proud.”
The beaming debutant needn’t look too far to see those very faces as the club had organised a group of them to be connected to the moment via FaceTime, their pride in one of their own doing something remarkable before their eyes evident on their faces.
Tuohy told Mullin what he wished someone had told him before his first game: enjoy it.
“It’ s a huge honour that I get to give you this and the same thing I say to every first game player is go out and enjoy it and just remember no matter what happens, good or bad, you've got 22 brothers ready to back you up.
“We'll always have your back when you play for us and congratulations mate, you deserve it.”
By the time he got this first touch, an uncontested mark and a 20 metre perfectly hit pass on the wing, the traditionally tense early game crowd dropped their guard for a moment and broke into a spontaneous round of applause and just like that, that 22 had swelled to 20,000.
“It was a really enjoyable occasion and that's what all the lads were saying in the build up to it, Zach especially, just go back and enjoy it,” he said after the game.
Who says dreams don’t come true.