McKeever ready for Australia backlash
A vice-captain's work is never done -- especially when he has to take on some of the captain's responsibilities.
With Irish skipper Stephen Cluxton maintaining his vow of silence from Melbourne to the Gold Coast, it has fallen again to Ciaran McKeever to represent the squad at press conferences and other media events.
He does it well. He speaks quietly yet convincingly, which is in keeping with his style as a player, both with Armagh and Ireland.
With so much speculation about how Australia are planning to inflict their own particular brand of revenge on Ireland for humiliating them in Melbourne last Friday, McKeever looks very much like a man who can't wait for the collision.
If Australia want to do it the hard way, so be it -- Ireland will be ready. That's the clear message emerging from the Irish camp.
"We didn't travel 13,000 miles to get intimidated by a crowd of Aussies," said McKeever. "We came out here to win the series. By the way they're talking, they are going to play it on their terms. We're not worried about that. If they want to up the ante, we will have no bother matching them."
It's a view reflected throughout an Irish squad which finds itself in the unusual position of having the series as good as secured before the second game. They recoil at that suggestion but, in reality, there isn't the remotest possibility that Australia can close the 44-point gap.
It would require them to win each quarter by 11 points, a target beyond the best teams that Australia have ever sent on international duty, let alone a squad which gave possibly the worst performance in the 27-year history of the series.
Ireland had planned for a tough physical challenge in the first Test but it never materialised and it now remains to be seen whether the Australians have anything new to offer on Friday.
"We said among ourselves that if these boys front you, don't take a step back, take a step forward. It's only one human being against another and they are no bigger or stronger than us," said McKeever. "They would try and intimidate you, but you have to stand your ground."
He believes that one of the crucial differences from last year rests in Ireland's approach to the tackle. Ireland lost lots of possession -- both in Limerick and Croke Park last year -- by spilling the ball after taking a tackle.
"We were just getting rid of it for the sake of it. We worked very hard on that in training. Possession just cannot be wasted. You must get into that mindset. You need to be composed on the ball."
Having won by a record margin last Friday, it would be a real anti-climax for Ireland if they lost on Friday. The Cormac McAnallen trophy may be on its way back to Ireland, but the Irish squad want to do it with two wins.
"We're starting with a clean slate on Friday. We want to win this as much as we did the first game," said McKeever.
Meanwhile, Australia's defensive coach Andrew McLeod has blamed a tactical miscalculation for Australia's dismal collapse in the first Test.
"We tried to play like the AFL with a press because the boys are so used to the press and zones, but it just doesn't work in this game," he said.
"Because Ireland move the ball so well and their disposal by foot is obviously better than ours, they cut you up so easily. You can't afford to give them time and space."
McLeod also acknowledged that the Australians found it very difficult to kick the round ball accurately. It's an aspect they have worked on in training this week in the hope that they can make better use of possession.
Attacker Angus Monfries said that if the ball wasn't kicked on the right spot, it veered left or right by a very long way. "Ireland are very good with their skills," he said. "They can hit a 40-metre pass with the round ball but we struggle to hit a 10-metre pass."