Late adrenalin rush proof that series worth keeping
Published 01/11/2010 | 05:00
The golfer who miserably hacks his way from ditch to ditch and bunker to bunker for 15 or 16 holes but then stages a late recovery and sinks a spectacular 30-footer on the last green, will always walk away from the 18th with the same conclusion.
"That's enough to bring me back the next day," he'll exclaim with some satisfaction.
So it is with the International Rules series on Saturday night at Croke Park. The glow from Ireland's stirring comeback in the second half of the third quarter, and first two-thirds of the last quarter, saved the series.
Not in terms of the victors, of course, but the actual concept itself, the idea that two indigenous games -- with no other international outlet -- can come together in each other's back yard for two weekends twice every three years and play exhibition matches, providing some entertainment along the way.
For that is what they still are -- exhibition matches. Experiments. Probing and prodding to get a state of equilibrium that might never be reached.
It's a novelty, nothing more. It will never be perfect and it will never stop the traffic in either nation. But it was never meant to.
Why should anyone expect any more from a game that has only ever been aired at senior level 31 times in its 26 years of existence?
The alternative -- to scrap it on the basis of its irrelevance, or on its failure to match up to the games of origin -- would leave a void in the calendar that certainly the GAA would be keen to avoid.
And remember, 61,842 people came to Croke Park on the back of a very disappointing and benign Test in Limerick and plenty of negative vibes. Whether they had free tickets or tickets at vastly reduced prices, it didn't matter. They came. They were curious. And they wanted a night out.
They also want to draw parallels with different athletes. And the evidence of the two games puts in check the notion that GAA players don't actually train and prepare like professionals. That's one of the great myths out there and this latest series has underlined that.
In his acceptance speech, Aussie captain Adam Goodes mentioned that the last quarter provided an atmosphere he had never experienced in his long career as an AFL player.
Perhaps the talented Goodes was in consoling mood, telling the home crowd and organisers a little of what they wanted to hear. But even at that, it was a big statement.
Saturday night represented a decent pulse after life was lost seven days earlier in Limerick.
When it was played at that breakneck pace of the last quarter and the Irish properly engaged, led by defiant Graham Canty at the heart of the defence, it had a captive audience. But it took a long time to get to that point. Too long.
What this series needed was Ireland getting out in front and Australia doing the chasing. Some rules (or are they laws in the international game?) need adjusting, not so much for the players as for the supporters.
Is it right that a back-pass, or even a lateral pass for that matter, should be rewarded with a 'mark'? It makes for an unedifying spectacle and should be removed. It was a flaw in the last two games.
The Irish kicking was once again under pressure -- not so much in shooting for 'overs' this time, but in finding a man.
A couple of qualifying points should be made, however. Most Gaelic footballers will seek to place a kick-pass that bounces once in front of a colleague rather than hitting directly on the chest and risking spillage. But getting a bounce does not earn a 'mark' and in that sense the adjustment is greater on the Irish side. When they resorted to convention in the second half, they passed up on the 'mark' but got momentum.
There is also a strong consensus that AFL has stepped up a couple of gears in the last two to three years. On his return to Sydney Swans last year, Tadhg Kennelly noticed a discerning difference in pace and staying power. That increased pace and staying power was reflected everywhere on Saturday night.
Dane Swan -- voted Australian player of the series -- kicked the first of his three 'overs' in the 14th minute by reading the flight of Stephen Cluxton's kick-out, bursting past Tommy Walsh and striking with aplomb.
The Irish couldn't always live with that pace and in their desperation to avoid the inevitable wrap, their kicking was sometimes panicked. It doesn't excuse all the bad kicks, certainly not those 'free' shots from 'marks' that Steven McDonnell and Walsh skewed wide.
This was possibly the most complete Australian International Rules team ever. Others won by bigger margins, but no other teams adapted to the rules and economy of play like this lot.
"They were smart," said Kennelly afterwards. "Mick Malthouse had them prepared really well. They were very smart in how and where they positioned themselves.
"Tactically they got it spot on. They were dynamite the way they were able to kick the ball.
"We went too defensive in the first game and that probably cost us in the end," added Kennelly, who admitted he had "probably" played his last game of International Rules.
Nobody should make International Rules out as more than what it is -- but nobody should detract from it too much either.
The concept of two different sports from two different countries from either side of the world, mixing it up twice every three years as an experiment is still worth pursuing. Or are we taking it all too seriously?