'It was like U-13 team playing against U-18s'
Ireland 6-22-14 (116) Australia 2-7-4 (37)
(Ireland win series 173-72 on aggregate)
IT'S simple really – Australia dispatched their weakest squad in the 29-year history of the International Rules series and were soundly thrashed by an Irish outfit which Paul Earley had prepared and structured for much sterner tests.
Whether the International Rules game has a long-term future should have nothing to do with what happened in Kingspan Breffni Park and Croke Park over the last two Saturdays, because it wasn't a battle of equals. For bizarre reasons which only the AFL can explain – and they haven't – Australia sent a team comprised of indigenous players only.
Out of their depth and left drowning in a swirling sea of incompetency, they didn't even show any of the defiant qualities which are always associated with Australian sport. It left coach Michael O'Loughlin so frustrated that he had to restrain himself before commenting on the dismal performances.
"It was like the best U-18 team playing the best U-13s. Obviously, we were the U-13s," he said. He also explained that he had been advised not to express what he really felt about the squad that had let their country down with such a gutless effort.
"Some really wise heads said to me afterwards – be careful what you say," stated the exasperated coach, who was still sufficiently honest to leave his players in no doubt as to how disgusted he was with their efforts.
"As a coach, I feel a bit ill, a bit sick. It has hurt me to the core. Some of our efforts were really flat. I guess some guys aren't able to follow instructions. Not singling anyone out, but there were some really terrible decisions made out there. We wanted to kick the ball all the time when the message was to use our hands and our leg speed.
"You've got to be able to run and carry. Some guys don't want to do that because sometimes it's hard. That's the reality of it.
"I didn't want to say anything (to the players) that I would regret in five years time. This is as flat as I've ever been. You're lost for words because you can't believe what's happening. You go through the whole thing, but it's frustrating when guys refuse to follow instructions," he said.
Harsh comments, but they were all totally accurate as Australia fumbled from crisis to crisis with no apparent means of escaping from their torment.
That's not to take away from the record-breaking Irish performance, for which Earley is entitled to huge credit. His squad selection was well thought out and he decorated that with a carefully considered tactical approach which was designed for a much higher level of opposition than Ireland encountered.
Indeed, it was a real pity that Australia didn't offer greater resistance to test an Irish squad that never had its capabilities fully stretched.
"We knew that the second game was going to be our better game.
"We had worked on a lot of the things that you saw there tonight. We weren't anything like 100pc perfect the first day, but we were much better tonight. We focused on our own game and it worked.
"Our players are professional in everything they do except getting paid.
"When we got 20 points ahead we wanted to make it 40 and when we got 40 ahead we wanted to make it 80. That's what good teams do. You never defend a lead, in my opinion, in a team game. You try to double it. The lads played right to the end. We had set certain targets for each quarter and they exceeded those targets," said Earley.
That was, indeed, the case. Taking a 22-point lead into the second game meant that Ireland were virtually certain to retain the Cormac McAnallen Cup, a target they made all the more reachable with an impressive first-half blitz, which saw them lead Australia 53-16 at the interval.
Even then, they didn't let up, stretching ever further ahead as they galloped towards the 100-point mark.
A Sean Cavanagh 'over' in the final quarter took them through the century barrier and on their way to a 116-point total.
Ireland led 78-25 heading into a final quarter which nobody really wanted as it was quite clear by then that there was nothing left in this series for the Australians.
They scored two goals in the final period, but Ireland countered with a goal from Paul Conroy and no fewer than seven 'overs'.
The one-sided nature of this series inevitably raises a question about its future, but, as Earley pointed out, it's all about the quality of the competing teams.
On this occasion, Australia sent a weak squad which never came close to a well-drilled Irish team.
"It's important this continues because the players want it. There are issues with the availability of Australian players, but instead of finding reasons why it shouldn't continue, we need to look at ways of making it work, including the Australians having their top players," said Earley.
O'Loughlin was equally adamant that the series should continue, but clearly the Australians need to sort themselves out after this debacle.
His immediate challenge was to try to explain why it had all gone so wrong.
"It's not the team that I know and the players that I know. Full credit to Ireland – I watched them in awe. The series should go ahead regardless of what happened tonight. You can imagine how flat our guys are after a margin like that. We started well, but in the end, it was all huff and puff.
"This is one of the most disappointing moments I have had. But you have to stand up and face the music – that's what these players have to do now," he said.
Suffice to say, that if the series continues, few of this squad will wear the Australian jersey again.
Scorers – Ireland: C McManus 24 pts (2 goals - 4 overs - 0 behinds), M Murphy 12 pts (0-4-0), L Keegan 11 pts (0-3-2), P McBrearty 11 pts (1-1-2), C Sheehan 10 pts (0-3-1), R Munnelly 10 pts (0-3-1), C Kilkenny 9 pts (1-1-0), P Conroy 7 pts (1-0-1), J McCaffrey 6 pts (1-0-0), P Flynn 5pts (0-1-2), S Cavanagh 4 pts (0-1-1), C McKaigue 3 pts (0-1-0), J Doyle 1 pt (0-0-1), A Walsh 1 pt (0-0-1), C Begley 1 pt (0-0-1), M Shields 1 pt (0-1-1). Australia: E Betts 9 pts (1-1-0), J Neade 7 pts (1-0-1), Lewis Jetta 6 pts (0-2-0), J Hill 4 pts (0-1-1), Alwyn Davey 3 pts (0-1-0), L Thomas 3 pts (0-1-0), S Wellingham 3 pts (0-1-0), M Stokes 1 pt (0-0-1), J Harbrow 1 pt (0-0-1).
Ireland – P O'Rourke (Meath); N McGee (Donegal), C Begley (Laois), C McKaigue (Derry); L Keegan (Mayo), Z Tuohy (Laois & Carlton), J McCaffrey (Dublin); A Walsh (Cork), S Cavanagh (Tyrone); P Flynn (Dublin), C Byrne (Louth), C Sheehan (Cork); R Munnelly (Laois), M Murphy (Donegal), C McManus (Monaghan).
Interchange: C Boyle (Mayo), P Conroy (Galway), C Kilkenny (Dublin), C McKeever (Armagh), K McLoughlin (Mayo), M Shields (Cork), P McBrearty (Donegal), J Doyle (Kildare).
Australia – A McGrath: J Harbrow, C Yarran, T Armstrong; S Wellingham, S Edwards, N Lovett-Murray; D Wells, C Ellis-Yolmen; M Stokes, S Motlop, Aaron Davey; J Neade, Lewis Jetta, E Betts. Interchange: Leroy Jetta, L Thomas, J Hill, D Barry, Alwyn Davey.
Refs – M Deegan (Laois), M Stevic (Australia).