Series restores respect between rival organisations
The GAA and the AFL can both breathe a little easier now -- the series has been saved from extinction.
Both matches were good with the second half of last Friday's game, in particular, played at a frantic pace, and also in the proper spirit. It had all the qualities we like in our games -- speed, skill, toughness -- but this time there was no obvious posturing, no blatant disregard for the rules and no attempts by the Australians to use whatever tactics were necessary in the pursuit of victory.
It should be clear to everyone after this that the Aussies are just as keen, maybe even keener, to keep this series going. It is now an honour for every Australian rules player to be asked to play for his country.
We can also see how much it means to Ireland and it was fitting that Seán Cavanagh, as captain, received the Cormac McAnallen Cup. Mickey Harte may be opposed to the concept but I am sure even he would appreciate how much it means for every one of those players to pull on an Irish jersey and get an opportunity to play with the best from other counties.
It was clear that the likes of Leighton Glynn and John Kean took this as the opportunity of a lifetime. And those who might wish to deny them that, should think long and very hard. As Yeats (the poet, not the horse) wrote: Tread carefully because you tread on my dreams.
If a team is a representation of their manager, both countries made wise choices. Mick Malthouse and Seán Boylan appreciated what was at stake and their teams played accordingly. After the farce of two years ago, it took men with a vision of the bigger picture involved. Kevin Sheedy never gave the impression of it meaning anything more to him than just another game to win. This time around both sides played with passion. It was a proper, hard but sporting series and Boylan can feel vindicated after what happened in 2006.
Of course, he has more practice than most in putting out fires. During the latter half of the 1980s, he had to douse more infernos than Red Adair, and all that training came in handy. Now at least he can stand back, knowing that the next time won't be as fraught with danger.
Many viewers might feel the games lacked the physical edge of previous encounters, but that is only true to a point. Both matches were very tough and the Irish tackling was better than previously but the essential mark of a quality encounter is measured by the ability of teams to get rid of the ball before being tackled, speed of thought and peripheral vision being prerequisites to succeed at this game.
This Irish side was very well coached and Boylan had able assistants in Bomber Liston, Anthony Tohill and Hugh Kenny and the vast experience each had in their own way of Gaelic football and international rules made them a formidable force. And there was quality all round on the field too with Graham Canty outstanding, while Brendan Coulter and Kieran Donaghy were also great leaders.
This time too there was a marked improvement from recent series in the ability of Irish players to catch the ball over their heads and to kick accurately. Maybe it was as simple as the fact that most of the best players were in Australia but it is obvious that a big effort went into some basic skills as well as using a bit of soccer too.
On the Australian side, their support play is absolutely marvellous and there is no club or county manager who could not learn a thing or 20 from the way the player in possession had options every time he was under pressure. Players like Daniel Wells and Shaun Burgoyne were brilliant in hoovering up loose ball while the bravery of the Aussie players in general in going head first for the ball on the ground was commendable.
So the series has lived up to the basic requirements. It was played in a sporting fashion, it was fairly balanced, while the refereeing was acceptable and the hints of bias were not way over the top as some have been in previous encounters.
Anyway, people in glass houses should be very slow to throw missiles. Every Monday, our papers are full of people complaining
about refs doing this, that and the other. So to have an Irish ref and an Australian umpire getting along well is an achievement in itself. The practice, though, of giving the series to refs on a rotational basis should be discontinued.
It is hard to get a feel for this game and now that we have two who are doing a good job, they should be left with it. It is a pity that the underage series is gone because it was a good way of grooming referees for the senior matches.
The players will enjoy their last few days in Australia and it is well deserved. Anyone who doubts their discipline and dedication to this international series does not understand the mentality of our leading county men. They only party when the job is done. And when the result is forgotten the very least that has come out of this is two distinct organisations who have a healthy respect for each other's games, culture and traditions. That is even more important.
Now the squad can have a few days off and can look forward to Tuesday's Melbourne Cup. If Septimus could get his nose in front in the race that truly does stop the nation, then it would be a great double for the Irish.