Ireland determined to prove their point
Published 26/10/2010 | 05:00
The Irish squad have reconciled with each other to make dramatic improvements ahead of Saturday's second International Rules Test at Croke Park.
The players and management came together last Sunday morning before they left Limerick and pledged to improve every aspect of their game from their competitiveness to their kicking of the ball, which came in for intense criticism following their seven-point defeat in the first match.
Not for the first time, the series itself is back in intensive care for the opposite reasons than in 2006. The lack of conviction, particularly from the Irish, gave the home crowd little to engage with and the task of even reaching an attendance of 50,000 on Saturday night has been made much more difficult after the lack of entertainment in Limerick.
Irish selector Kevin O'Brien has echoed Steven McDonnell's contention that the players have to be truer to the values of their own game and play it with much greater conviction.
"Everyone says Australia will improve from week to week, but we have a lot of improvement to make, too," said O'Brien.
"We were all disappointed with what we did. There's no taking away from that. It's a great challenge for us now. Obviously there is a desire there to redeem ourselves," added the Wicklow man. "We left our forwards too isolated at times and we probably did play too much ball on the ground.
"But the series is far from over. There was a real determination as we left Limerick to get things right. The players are aware of the need to deliver something different and I think we'll see a real lift in the intensity and the commitment from them on Saturday."
A quicker moving of the mark by the Irish is also expected after they spurned a number of opportunities to offload and create goal chances in preference for the safer option of stepping back and kicking -- a tactic that suited the well-organised Australians, who had clearly worked on their defence.
The condensed size of the pitch also appeared to suit the Australians, though it was the same size as it was for the 2008 Tests in Australia.
Some within the Irish camp feel that there was an element of holding back because the series still remains on trial. The overriding desire not to provoke flashpoints was quite evident in a number of the exchanges and that contributed to the paucity of the spectacle.
The irony of Ireland's poor scoring return, just eight overs compared to 14 from the Australians, and just one of that eight (from Kevin McKernan) from open play, is that it has come after one of the most memorable seasons for long-range point taking in recent times.
If there is an issue on a broader scale with the quality of kicking in Gaelic football then it wasn't reflected in the myriad great long-range scores produced in this year's championship.
Such scores weren't exclusive to any one county or any one boot. They came Sunday after Sunday, from province to province and county to county.
It was an eclectic mix, from Michael Shields' long-range effort against Kerry in June, Alan Costello's tour de force for Sligo against Roscommon, Dick Clerkin's double from over 50 metres for Monaghan against Armagh, Donie Shine for Roscommon against Cork, Kildare's James Kavanagh against Monaghan and almost anything Bernard Brogan touched in league and championship.
Take Dublin's Philip McMahon's efforts against Armagh and Tyrone, both from a range of around 45 metres; Benny Coulter's wonderful effort from near the sideline against Kildare; Hugh Lynch, a player who might have been considered Kildare's fourth-choice midfielder at the start of the season, stepping up to score two from distance late in the same game; Daniel Goulding's and Donncha O'Connor's fine efforts to revive a flagging Cork side in the second quarter of the All-Ireland final.
The list goes on, but those scores have been conveniently forgotten about in the rush to condemn the art of kicking in Gaelic football as a dying one.
In chasing down a seven-point deficit, Ireland are attempting to do what they have only done once before on home soil, to come from behind and win the series.
That was in 1998, the first year that aggregate scores over the two games were introduced when they trailed by one point (62-61) but carved out a 67-56 second Test win.
In 2002, they faced a similar seven-point deficit (65-58) but failed to close that gap after a 42-42 draw in probably the worst weather any Rules Test has ever been played in.
Two year earlier, the Australians held an eight-point (55-47) lead and built on that impressively to win the second Test by 68-51. Ireland lost an eight-point lead between the infamous 2006 Tests. From a 48-40 vantage point after the first Test in Galway, they were hammered eight days later 69-31.
- Confusion reigned on Saturday over the announcement during the week that Eurosport would broadcast the first International Rules Test live. Irish viewers who took that announcement on board and switched to Eurosport were treated to bowling and tennis in China just as the ball was about to be thrown in at the Gaelic Grounds.
The anomaly was that Irish viewers only have access to Eurosport UK, which was precluded from showing the game live because of the agreement with TG4, something that was specified in the GAA statement on the matter.