FORMER Cork hurling star Setanta Ó hAilpín completed an amazing sporting transformation yesterday when he made his debut in the Australian Rules Cup.
While his former team mates battled against Wexford, 20-year-old Ó hAilpín lined out for Carlton against Geelong in the Wizard Home Loans Cup, completing his remarkable transformation from hurling to Australian rules just five months after arriving in Melbourne.
The Corkman, whose every touch was cheered during the game, has been the subject of intense media interest in Australia over recent weeks.
"It was fairly tough getting into the first game but I really enjoyed every minute of it and hopefully I can progress on from this to the main AFL [league]", he said. "The first kick was great and the crowd really got behind me which was great".
Ó hAilpín has amazed critics and supporters alike by propelling himself into the Carlton first team after making a string of impressive performances in non-competitive games. According to his coach Denis Pagan, Ó hAilpín has "defied logic" by his meteoric rise through the ranks.
In his first year of senior hurling, Ó hAilpín was a member of the Cork side that lost the All Ireland final to Kilkenny last September. His performances during that campaign earned him a coveted place on the all-stars team, while he was also voted the game's best young exponent.
The young star's performances attracted the attention of Carlton scouts, and he was invited to train with the side in Melbourne. However, the speed of his rise through the ranks has taken the world of Australian rules by shock, as Ó hAilpín was not expected to feature in first team games for at least a season or two.
Ó hAilpín has settled into the Carlton set-up, where he is affectionately known as 'Carlos', after musician Carlos Santana. According to Carlton colleague Digby Morrell, Ó hAilpin is still coming to terms with the rules of the game, but is picking it up quickly.
Unfortunately, Ó hAilpín's debut was not marked with a Carlton success, with his side going down to Geelong 0-13-8 (86) to 1-9-3 (66).