Angry Tohill demands action on club fixture chaos
ANTHONY Tohill walked a diplomatic line in Melbourne yesterday but could scarcely disguise his frustration over the disruption caused to Ireland's preparations for the International Rules series by the late finish of some county championships.
Captain Stephen Cluxton, Colm Begley, Leighton Glynn and Finian Hanley all had to delay their departure for Australia due to club commitments over the weekend, while some others were earlier forced to withdraw from the squad due to local engagements.
"I suppose I have to be careful of what I say. We're grateful in the way that clubs and counties have allowed players come away and play with us. We need our best players playing this game and we need as much time as we can to prepare for this series," said Tohill.
"We need our preparations to be as professional as they can be.
"Something needs to be looked at. County finals used to be played in September, so why is it that they are now being played at the end of October? We understand it for counties that have been in the All-Ireland final. But even from a club player's point of view, why does he start training in January and not be finished by November?
"It's certainly something that needs to be looked at, probably as part of a wider investigation into how fixtures are structured right across the GAA family. This past few weeks have been far from ideal, but that's the way it is."
Despite the disruptions, he said that preparations had gone well and would now step up a further gear in the countdown to Friday's first Test at the Etihad Stadium.
The squad will be working hard on kicking drills after running into problems in that area last year.
"We had loads of possession and scoring chances but were guilty of poor shooting and poor kicking," said Tohill. "It's difficult, as in our game, fellas are free to shoot without being touched, whereas here you've got that threat -- even if it's only an implied threat -- it still knocks guys off course.
"That's the one big issue from last year. We do our best to replicate that (tackling the kicker) in our training but it's hard as it's still alien to our game."
Tohill contends that despite being forced to play with a round ball, the composite game demands fewer changes from the Australians than the Irish.
"We have to adapt to so many different things and subtleties in this game whereas Australia largely play their own game, albeit with a round ball. The ball is the biggest transition they have to make but I think the transition is more difficult technically for our players," he said.
Tohill, who has vast experience as a Rules player and manager, believes that Australia took the game to a new level last year.
"When we played them back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, you could give them 60 or 70pc of possession because you knew they weren't going to translate that into scores. But they're cuter now and more adept at kicking the round ball," he said.
He recalled the years when Australia's shooting attempts were highly erratic: "In the old days, when they won possession they just got the ball up near the scoring zone -- just hoofed it in.
"Last year though they played very much zonally. At times in both games they had everyone back. That's how their game is played: run in numbers, hunt in packs. It's an evolution and we're mindful of it," he said.
Looking towards the future of the series, Tohill said that three risks applied. "They are these: that it degenerates down the violence route -- if that happens, that's it done. Another is that one country gets too good at it. And the third thing is that there's apathy from players and amongst spectators."
The first and third risks are unlikely to materialise and now it's up to Ireland to ensure that option two doesn't develop and they reach the heights set by Australia last year rather than let them forge further ahead.
Despite the distractions, Tohill and his assistants have prepared the squad well and are now hoping for a hugely positive response. This series will be his last as Irish manager and after last year's two defeats, it's crucial that Ireland make a bold statement this time.