Patrick Comer is an Irish documentary filmmaker who has spent a number of weeks in Melbourne filming Carlton's O'hAilpin brothers, the Cork-based hurling players trying to eke out an existence with the 142 year-old football club reputedly founded by the Cork-born paradox and Ned Kelly's nemesis, Sir Redmond Barry.

Image Comer (pictured) is yet to finalise a name for the documentary, whose working title is O'CorCaigh go Carlton (From Cork to Carlton). He intends to juxtapose the trials and tribulations of the younger O'hAilpin siblings with those of oldest brother Sean Og, an accomplished hurling player who continues to make an indelible mark on the game in Cork. The documentary is expected to screen on Ireland's national Irish language network TG4 around Christmas and it is hoped Australian audiences will also be able to see a subtitled version.

Café Quince in the quaint Melbourne inner-city suburb of Clifton Hill recently provided the convivial milieu for this interview, at the suggestion of Gerard Sholly, who as an AFL club recruiting consultant first identified Setanta Ó hAilpín's latent Australian Rules talent and who also manages a number of elite sportspeople, among them Australian Test batsman Brad Hodge.

This is an edited transcript of the interview with Tony De Bolfo.

Tony De Bolfo: Patrick, could you tell me a little bit about what brought you here?

Setanta and brother Sean Og Patrick Comer: I've been here essentially to film a documentary of the O'hAilpin brothers, Setanta and Aisake who are playing for the Carlton Football Club here in Melbourne.

Communications for this project began over a year ago. The producers who contacted me about it were influenced by the oldest brother Sean Og, who they saw as this remarkable figure in Irish sport. They were also interested in the fact that the boys' mother, Emeli, came from Rotuma in Fiji, that the father came from Fermanagh and that the boys could speak Gaelic and Fijian. On top of that you had two of the brothers going to Australia to try their luck, so it was an all-round good story.

The reason why this documentary is of interest to Irish audiences is because Australia is at the other end of the world in terms of the geographics and culturally we like to think that there is some attachment between the old place in Ireland and a place someone from Ireland has actually migrated to.

Traditionally we've had strong links with America, I myself have lived in America for a while, and unfortunately we haven't recognized our true identity as Europeans. We're more like American Irish which effects our music, our television and our culture.

TDB: I'm so surprised to here you talk of the strong links with the United States when so many Australians look to Ireland as the home of their ancestors.

PC: Yes and I don't really know why Australia hasn't captured the imagination when we're cousins really. I mean, 20 or 30 years ago every home in Ireland had a photograph of Kennedy and a photograph of the Pope. There were no Australian icons, although I know my uncle sent me back a couple of koalas bears and I didn't know where to put them! With the exception of Ned Kelly, there is no real Australian icon. All we have is Neighbors and Home and Away and I know of Muriel's Wedding, Gallipoli and Breaker Morant. Australia was always somewhere there in the backs of our minds - it had something to do with Irish emigrants, Ned Kelly, and all those who left at the time of the famine. But that was a long long time ago.

In terms of Australian Rules football, it was something I never really knew about in my youth. People of my generation sometimes saw it on television and would wonder "What the hell is that?" You could see similarities with Gaelic football but Gaelic football's not as rough as Aussie Rules. Aussie Rules seemed brutal to our eyes and you wouldn't draw an initial conclusion in watching Aussie Rules that "That's Gaelic football overseas". But if you go back to the origins of football in its rawest sense, whether it's Australian Rules, Gaelic football or soccer, you had groups of men competing over a patch of ground who made do with whatever they had available, goalposts or uprights. And as they say, "Soccer is a gentle game played by ruffians, rugby is a rough game played by gentlemen and Gaelic football is a rough game played by ruffians". In that context Australian Rules would probably be an extremely rough game played by extremely rough people.

We don't know an awful lot about Australian Rules in Ireland other than Jim Stynes and Tadgh Kennelly and we don't realize what they gave up. But they gave up a hell of a lot, not the least of which was family. I can remember when Australian teams were touring in the 1980s we were expecting Aussie teams to turn up like long lost cousins. We weren't expecting the physicality in those games, I'm pretty sure of that. There was certainly a naivety on our part. Of course, Setanta was born in Australia, but when he talks he's got such a strong Irish accent and his mannerisms are so Irish.

TDB: I understand that you yourself represented the Irish team in International rules.

PC: I came here in 1990 to play the Australians in Melbourne, Canberra and Perth when we beat the Australians and I was goalkeeper. I originally played with Galway, from 1983 to 2000, because Galway's my home. That's the way it works. You play for your parish and my parish was Salthill on the outskirts of Galway City. It's very territorial.

TDB: That's a very noble philosophy, I believe, because you're playing for the right reasons.

PC: Yes and I managed to play in a couple of winning provincial titles. There are four provinces in Ireland - Connaught, Ulster, Leinster and Munster - and when you win your provincials you go through to the two semi-finals and on to the final of the All-Ireland series. They've changed that system now, but I managed to play in four provincial titles and in 1998 was a sub when Galway won the All-Ireland final against Kildaire. I was the oldest and probably had a more mature outlook of the way things were panning out in that year and so I actually made a film about what was going on behind the scenes that year. The film was called A Year 'til Sunday.

TDB: Was that your first foray into filmmaking?

PC: No, photography and filmmaking was always my passion from the time I was a kid. Unfortunately there hasn't been a really strong film industry in Ireland simply because of the lack of finances. If you look at the East European countries they've produced really phenomenal independent stuff that has remained indigenous, traditional and culturally expressive. But with Ireland it comes back to that bond with America and England - it's cheaper to get films with Irish actors in them from there - and I for one had to go there to get by after the recession hit in the late 1980s. There was a big contingent of people from Galway there at the time.

My first documentary was about the first group of Irish couples to adopt children from China. Around 1995 or '96, Channel 4, a British television broadcaster, put to air a documentary called The Dying Rooms. In it they showed covert footage of abandoned children put into Chinese orphanages by their parents as a result of China's one-child policy, which only provided for a son to carry on the family name.

According to this documentary the kids were left in these orphanages in pretty severe condition, four in a cot, with not enough people there to fend for the kids. This caused public outcry in Ireland, with marches and rallies, and a resulted in a few people coming forward and setting up International Orphan Aid China. They acted for the first group of Irish families willing to adopt children from China and this whole process took three years and we followed their plight in Ireland until the first children was adopted. I still get Christmas cards from two of those children involved - Jin Su and Mi Mi.

I was fortunate in the sense that I was going to photograph that journey, but a mate of my brother-in-law thought it would make a film and he gave me a break. He took me up to meet the families and I took time out to film them for a pilot that was finally accepted by the broadcaster. We got the gig from a number of other similar proposals and we weren't known. We were lucky because we were able to get the story first-hand from people who were living the story.

TDB: You also mentioned having directed a film called Mad Dog Coll. I read that Vincent Coll, aka "Mad Dog" Coll, was one of the most prominent gangsters during Prohibition in New York.

PC: I didn't know a lot about "Mad Dog" Coll. There were a few things written about him but you couldn't authenticate the sources. There was a film put out by Columbia Pictures called "Mad Dog" Coll in the 50s which portrayed him as a really bad psychopath, which is what he was, and I think Richard Widmark played the part. "Mad Dog" Coll's character also appeared in The Cotton Club.

Coll was a native of Gweedore along Ireland's northwestern coastline. He arrived in New York impoverished and uneducated and rose to become one of the city's most famous mobsters. A friend wrote a book about him and because Irish Language Television was always looking for subjects with a difference I became involved in the project and spent a bit of time working on the story in New York.

TDB: So what has attracted you to the O'hAilpin story?

PC: The attraction is that the story is real. I really wanted to capture the effort that Setanta and his brother are putting in to make it at this game. I wanted to capture him sweating on the training track, I wanted to capture him cursing when he kicks the ball wide - that's magic to me because a) you capture the frustration and b) you capture the reality. I've hung around the club a long time to capture these moments and I know there are Carlton officials there thinking: "What's he doing?" "Is he still here?" They haven't said that directly to me and I appreciate that, but I know what they're thinking.

TDB: Do you envisage that O'CorCaigh go Carlton will resonate with Australian Rules followers who might be aware of Setanta and Aisake, but may not know about Sean Og and the O'hAilpin family members back in Ireland?

PC: Oh yes, and by the way "Sean Og" is pronounced "Sean Oag", with "Og" meaning "young" as the father's name is Sean. Sean Og was voted Ireland Sports Personality of the Year in 2005. He's a phenomenal athlete. He played for Cork when they won the All-Ireland hurling final in 2004, captained them when they won it in 2005, and back in 2003 he played alongside Setanta when they were beaten by Kilkenny. Setanta joined Carlton at the end of 2003.

Everyone in Ireland knows Sean Og O'hAilpin and Setanta pictured because of their name, although Setanta wasn't there long enough to make an impact like Sean Og. There's a famous commentator from County Kerry named Michéal O'Muircheartaigh who's blessed with that lovely rural voice. He's the voice of the GAA, he only does radio and when Sean Og got hold of the ball in a particular match O'Muircheartaigh said: "Sean Og has the ball for Cork . . . he comes out of the back, Sean Og . . . the father's from Fermanagh and the mother's from Fiji, neither of them a hurling stronghold!" That's why Sean Og's legendary.

Sean Og, deep down, would have loved to have joined his brothers in playing the Australian game. I think he supported St Kilda when he lived out here and he later followed the game on satellite television. I think he would have been fantastic at that game, but it wasn't the done thing back then and maybe his dream always was to play for Cork. I was born in Coventry in England and to this day I support Coventry. Setanta and Sean Og spent some time in Australia so the game is not completely foreign to them.

The O'hAilpins don't drink or smoke because sport's become so demanding that there's no room for it. But alcohol abuse is a real problem in Ireland and we've got the highest levels of suicide in Europe . . . a lot of it is to do with the alcohol and so many people can only express their socializing through it. If we had the Commonwealth Games in Ireland there's no way we'd have the Grand Prix a week later because we'd still be recovering!

TDB: At the end of it all, what do you hope that the documentary achieves?

PC: While I haven't met the O'hAilpins' father, I hope people come to appreciate what a wonderful woman their mother is. I think her story is amazing and without focusing on her so much I think you'll still get an extraordinary sense of her and her influence. She's here now to be with Aisake because she feels she should be here. She has a lovely nature about her. I recognize it as very Irish and her character is one I like very much.

Secondly this documentary film will hopefully be about modern Ireland in terms of "These are the choices that modern men of Ireland are making".

Blueseum: Setanta's Blueseum Biography | Aisake's Blueseum Biography | O'hAilpin Image Gallery