Earley storm warning as Irish boss talks up united Aussies
Ireland will face the most united Australian team since the inception of the International Rules, manager Paul Earley has warned.
Despite misgivings over the decision of the AFL to select an entirely indigenous team to travel over for a ninth Test series in Ireland this month (a decision that some feel has diluted the momentum of the entire concept), Earley believes that history will create the greatest level of unity among the Australians.
"I have been in Australia on two separate occasions – when I was an 18-year-old and in the late '90s when I went over there to work – and I know a lot of the indigenous people and understand the way they have been treated over the last couple of hundred years," he said.
"That brings them together; there is a bond that is created as a result of that. They are a very tightly knit group. I played with a couple of them when I was a 19-year-old in Melbourne, so I know their mentality.
"The fact that they are coming together this week, I don't think that has been done before.
"From the outside, people will look and say that it is not the best Australian team; it may not be the best team, but they will make up for that in unity. They will have a sense of team bonding that other Aussie teams might not have had."
Earley has pointed to the presence of Lance Franklin, who signed a nine-year AUS$10m contract, as evidence of Australian strength.
"If Franklin, who won a Premiership (with Hawthorn) last weekend and is the highest paid player in Australia, and Adam Goodes (the player of the Series on 2010) come over, that'll be two of the top four or five players in Australia, so they'll be pretty strong."
Earley has yet to finalise his panel, but admits it was a "surprise" that so many players are unavailable because of injury.
He also revealed that Colm Cooper, who has not been involved in a Series since 2005, thought long and hard about making a return before deciding to opt out.
"Most of the players ruled themselves out on the basis of injury. There are a lot of injury issues. That surprised me. There are a lot of overuse injuries, which raises another question about the amount of work these fellas are doing. A few players have ruled themselves out due to club commitments," he said.
The former Roscommon star – who spent time in his late teens with AFL club Melbourne – has had to deal with a number of high-profile defections since convening a preliminary squad.
There are no Kerry players available, while All-Ireland winning-captain Stephen Cluxton has also served notice on his unavailability after captaining the team to Series victory in Australia two years ago.
Michael Darragh Macauley, Cian O'Sullivan and Bernard Brogan are resting injuries, but Paul Flynn, James McCarthy, Jack McCaffrey and Ciaran Kilkenny are among the most recently crowned All-Ireland champions to answer the call last weekend.
Ireland currently have 40 players in training, including Tyrone goalkeeper Niall Morgan, who has recovered from the knee ligament injury that ruled him out of the championship.
It is intended to cut the squad to 30 after this weekend and it will be be scaled down to 23 after a practice match in Cavan the following weekend.
Zach Tuohy will be the only AFL-based player involved with Ireland; Tommy Walsh is injured, while Pearse Hanley and Martin Clarke are not available.
Earley praised the commitment of the four Mayo players who travelled down to training last weekend.
"Their response has been great. We had Aidan O'Shea, Kevin McLoughlin, Colm Boyle and Lee Keegan at the weekend and they trained again on Wednesday night in Croke Park," he said.
Earley said the imperative for Ireland in this Series was to play the game in the right way. "All we can do is control what we can, which is preparing the team to play football the way we want to play it," he said.
"We can't control what the Australians do or any other outside influences and we will try to play the game the right way and, hopefully, they will do the same and the Series will continue.
"I have this job for two years and it's one of my responsibilities to make sure that we hand over the baton to the next manager with the Series in good shape."