Setanta O'Hailpin

Versatile ... Setanta O’hAilpin, right, does battle with a Carlton player mid-season last year. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo

SETANTA O'HAILPIN knew he was in strife the moment he came to earth and heard a massive crack in his knee.

The Bankstown-born Irishman, playing his first game for Greater Western Sydney against his old club, had been in a ruck contest with Carlton's Matthew Kreuzer but a tangle of legs knocked him off balance mid air.

Unfortunately for O'hAilpin his left knee was not braced to cope with the pressure of bearing his entire 105-kilogram frame and buckled upon landing, shattering his anterior cruciate ligament – and quite possibly his career as well.

"At 29, doing my ACL and being out of contract – they're the things that go through your head," O'hAilpin said as he prepares to make his comeback this weekend against Sydney and Carlton in the NAB Cup.

Those fears were allayed by a chat with the Giants football manager, Graeme Allan, who reassured him he had not reached the end of the road.

That O'hAilpin, a fringe player for much of his eight years and 80-game career with the Blues, has been thrown another one-year deal by the Giants is testament to the big man's character.

Despite his dire circumstances, O'hAilpin refused to spend the rest of the season wallowing in self-pity.

Not only did he throw himself into a rigorous rehabilitation program but he wanted to do everything in his power to support his young teammates, many of whom were playing their debut season.

"I couldn't change what had been done," O'hAilpin said. "It would have been selfish for me to put my head down and worry about myself. These kids – it was their first season and getting around them as much as I could was vital."

So he worked with the Giants' reserves side, pushed his teammates in the gym and even hit the road with Kevin Sheedy as the coach spruiked the club around the state.

"It's easy to do your weights and rehab and stay in the gym all year round, but when you're out there you get a fresh lease of life," O'hAilpin said.

He has recently been appointed as an AFL "multicultural" ambassador, which involves visits to schools, community football clubs, government and multicultural organisations. It has given O'hAilpin another reminder of how privileged he is to be involved in professional sport – a message his mother has constantly drummed into him.

"You get caught up in football but outside there's a real world and you see how real people live," he says.

Back in Ireland, which O'hAilpin still calls home, many of his friends have been hit hard by the global financial crisis. He has mates who have lost their jobs and been forced to move back in with their parents.

"You hear stories about jobs being cut and it's really tough. I really feel for them. If I hadn't had this opportunity I'd be in the same boat as them. My mum always told me sport is something you dream of doing . . . but you have to understand it will come to an end.

"I'm a firm believer of respecting and being humble to everyone because no matter what you do in life we're all the same. No matter if I'm a footballer, you're a builder or a plumber we're all the same.

"One minute you can be a footballer and next minute you can be delisted and not have a job."

That could have been O'hAilpin's plight had the Giants not recognised his value to their young list.

"Sure there were times he was beating himself up at home but the way he came to the club, with the energy and excitement, it showed to our young kids you can have the worst day in the world but you still have to do the job," says Giants welfare manager Craig Lambert.