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Rotuman Sports

From Brisbane Times Online (27 November 2011)

Homecoming for O'hAilpin at AFL club GWS

by Rob Forsaith

Setanta O'hAilpin returned to his birthplace on Sunday and was faced with plenty of reminders of the unique path he took to the AFL.

O'hAilpin, handed a second chance by Greater Western Sydney in the draft, was understandably excited about the prospect of extending his AFL career into a ninth season.

There's a great sense of the unknown for most of the Giants' young draftees ahead of their maiden AFL season - but not so much for the former Irish hurler.

Not only has O'hAilpin played 80 senior games for Carlton, but he's seen a lot of western Sydney beyond the gates of Breakfast Point.

"I suppose not many people know that I was born in Bankstown. I lived in Greenacre," he told AAP.

"They're telling me it's 10 or 15 minutes from here (Blacktown).

"I grew up here, headed to Ireland, then to Melbourne - now I've done the full circle.

"I have vague memories ... I remember my brothers playing rugby league growing up here."

A career in the NRL wasn't to be, though. The O'hAilpin clan left for Ireland when Setanta was five - his older brother Sean Og becoming an iconic hurler and gaelic footballer.

Eventually, Setanta returned to Australia via the Blues' rookie list in 2004.

He was seen as the latest esoteric Irish experiment, some of his Carlton teammates even creatively coining the nickname 'Irish'.

However, there's a lot more to the 28-year-old than limericks, leprechauns and four-leaf clovers.

"I speak fluent Irish and I speak fluent Rotuman, where my mum's from," he said.

"I'm equally proud to be Fijian and Irish as well."

Rotuman is a language that features Polynesian loanwords, mainly from Samoan and Tongan.

The prospect of O'hAilpin using some of those Tongan words on the field with Israel Folau is implausible at best, but the concept of the senior code-hopper mentoring Folau is not.

"I admire him for giving it a go. Some people would shy away from it but he loves a challenge," he said.

"I'll be there to help him as much as I can."

O'hAilpin, who underwent a knee operation in the off-season, will return to light jogging on Monday and feels there is still improvement in his own game.

"The day I stop playing will be the day I stop learning."

The utility drew sizeable applause when he was presented to the estimated crowd of 1200 - some of them clad in NRL club apparel - at a community day in Blacktown.

"For both rugby league fans and fans of existing AFL clubs, at the very least we want to be a second team," GWS chief executive David Matthews said.