Rules series threatened by outbreak of peace
WAR almost wrecked the International Rules series four years ago and now it looks as if peace could pose a new threat to its long-term survival.
A rather tepid first Test in Limerick last Saturday raised fears of public apathy for Saturday's second game at Croke Park, but the GAA remain confident that the attendance will come close to 60,000.
However, there's an urgent need for a step up in the excitement levels, which remained disappointingly low until the final five minutes last Saturday, when Ireland finally built up enough momentum to seriously trouble the Australians.
It left Ireland seven points short in the end -- which still puts them close enough to complete the recovery -- although history shows that whoever wins the first Test usually takes the series. That was the case in the eight Tests from 1998 to 2005. Ireland won the first Test in Galway in 2006 (48-40) but were well beaten in the second (69-31).
However, there were mitigating circumstances for Ireland's collapse as a violent start to the game, during which Graham Geraghty was knocked unconscious, completely unsettled them. Still, it looks rather ominous for Ireland that so many first Test winners took the honours a week later.
The violence in 2006 came close to ending the series, but it's now back on track and leaning so much the other way that there's a risk the public will lose interest unless it regains some of its edge. There wasn't a single flashpoint last Saturday and while that may please the legislators, it was all a bit too tame for the public.
Maintaining the balance between legitimate intensity and unacceptable aggression is central to the game's well-being and, so far, that quest has proved elusive.
GAA director general Paraic Duffy said people shouldn't rush to conclusions after one low-key game.
"The Irish team know they can play better than they did last Saturday," he said.
"They proved in the final few minutes that they're capable of a lot more. In terms of discipline, we want a game that's fair and viable. We had that in 2008 and again last Saturday. I don't think anybody wants to go back to what we had before that.
"There's plenty of room in this game for strong tackling, once it's done fairly and properly. As for the overall series, you can only judge how it's gone after the second game."
Ireland will be hoping to have a much higher strike rate with 'overs' (three-pointers) after managing just eight, compared to Australia's 14, last Saturday.
The hosts will also be trying to create more goal openings, another area where they should have an advantage over the Australians. However, that wasn't the case last Saturday when Bernard Brogan's brilliant strike yielded Ireland's only goal.
Other than that, the Australian defence never allowed the Irish forwards to get a clean strike on goalkeeper Dustin Fletcher, who played well in an unaccustomed role.