Aussie lessons for the GAA
They have become more adept at kicking than Irish players with only a few weeks' practice
There is above-average interest in the Ireland-Australia game this year because of the fact that both countries are putting out respectable teams, at least in terms of the merit of the players on show next Saturday night in Croke Park.
It is, of course, a great pity that there will be only one game in their so-called series and it is hard to believe that a group of players will be dispatched a distance of 12,000 miles just to play one game of football but apparently that is all that the Aussies can allocate into their calendar.
And we thought we were bad for fixture congestion in the GAA.
In my own time as Ireland manager there were three Test matches and I was fortunate to be involved in six matches in total.
With eight current All-Stars on the Ireland team there is no doubting the quality of the home side and the Aussie team is mostly comprised of players of similar stature in their game. In recent years there have been some extravagant claims by many GAA team mentors that the level of their players, in terms of fitness, stamina etc., has now equalled that of the Australian Rules (AFL) teams but I have my doubts about that.
For one thing, the Aussies seem to have managed their players' conditioning much better, as is shown by they having far less serious injuries than the Irish players, including hurlers. Of course, we must remember that games in AFL competitions last for four quarters of 20 minutes and the playing area in the Aussie game is nearly one-third larger than Croke Park, so it is not surprising that their fitness levels require greater demands.
In terms of playing the actual international rules games, the Aussies' biggest problem was coping with the round football in the earlier years but in recent times that problem has eased. They have practised using the round ball to such an extent that in the past two series, at least, the Australian players have showed themselves to be more adept at kicking the Gaelic football than the natives who have been using it all their lives.
This is something GAA people have been loathe to accept, no doubt not being prepared to appreciate that coaching can actually transform footballers' skills to change habits of a lifetime.
The pity is, of course, that the majority of the current GAA lads do not bother, and are not encouraged to practise the fundamental skill of Gaelic football which is correct and accurate kicking of the ball, long, short and especially when attempting scores from outside the 21-yard line.
Most present-day managers, from All-Ireland down to Under-14 teams, prefer to transfer the ball by means of the fisted pass, and kicking is seen by many managers as a last resort - nearly seen as backward and not befitting the smart lads who play the game in modern times.
The public, of course, have long since been disgusted with the abandonment of kicking to the extent that now prevails but are surrendering to the brainwashing of coaches and managers who tell us that hand-passing is the heart and soul of Gaelic football. God help their innocence!
Anyway, we will watch with great interest the comparisons in kicking efficiency next Saturday between the AFL players with a few weeks' training with the round ball and the GAA players who have been using the round ball since they started getting out of their prams. Compare and contrast indeed.
Even those die-hard GAA people who have always looked down their noses at these games between the AFL and GAA elite players will grudgingly have to admit that some present-day developments in the Gaelic game came directly from Aussie rules involvement, most notably the decision to allow frees and line balls to be taken from the hand instead of off the ground as had been the case for 100 years.
This was a rule change that was never properly analysed or trialled for a couple of seasons and it has now been abused left, right and centre to the great annoyance of the general GAA public.
Free-taking from the ground was one of the major skills of football and I knew followers who often travelled to a big game solely to watch one of the great free-takers in action.
And these men were often from some of the weakest counties in the game, which added to their appeal. I remember the great Mickey Kearins from Sligo scoring something like 14 points from placed balls off the ground in a Railway Cup game in Croke Park but he was just one of these specialists we used to enjoy.
Anyway, we can look forward to an exciting evening in Croke Park on Saturday as a bunch of elite footballers from two of the world's great sports, AFL and Gaelic, lock horns. It will help to get us away from talk of GAA politics for a while!