Sport Gaelic Football

Saturday 24 February 2018

Aussie apathy insults the hard work of many people

Colm O'Rourke, as a former Irish manager, rejects the view that the international rules series is an ego trip

Ireland team manager Paul Earley
Ireland team manager Paul Earley
Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

It may not have been the last waltz of the international rules last week but it sure felt like it. There will be one more tour at least but the Australians seem to have decided that death is going to be by a thousand cuts, leaving the Irish to pull the plug. This year was such a shambles that the GAA would be quite entitled to tell the Aussies to stuff it but with an Irish tour pencilled in for next year then there may be a temporary reprieve.

It is something the Australians hardly deserve. They knew what they were doing. By picking an Aborigine side without any consultation with the Irish they ruled out almost all the best players in Australia. There was never a chance of a competitive side. Even at that some of their best players did not even travel and they could not even muster a full panel. It was like a junior club team here going to a challenge game and picking up as many men as possible at every crossroads on the way.

If the GAA decided that the trip to Australia next year was for left-footed players only the response would be one of total disbelief. Why should an international team representing players of a particular code debar the best players from playing by some arbitrary decision? If the Aussies decided that indigenous players were excluded there would be an outcry, yet why should it be acceptable to leave out all others? The humiliation that followed is the consequence of such hubris and an insult to a lot of great people who have worked hard to create and preserve a link. Men like Harry Beitzel and Peter McDermott started it and there were plenty of others who by their standing alone helped to establish relations which were mutually beneficial.

The public here have tired of it. Last week's crowd of 27,000 was artificially boosted by clubs bringing schoolkids to Croke Park. They probably enjoyed the experience too but the paying adults were few and far between and most were gone long before the end. It was a pity, though, for Paul Earley and a very well-prepared Irish team that this had come about on their watch.

I flagged in advance that there was trouble ahead and that the indigenous side was one which people would find difficult to criticise because of the sensitivities involved. Yet this snub to Ireland should be the subject of a missile back to Australia from the top officials here, as the main Aussie officials did not travel. This selection and lack of competitiveness was not the fault of the Australian players, rather those in authority who gave it their blessing.

It's a pity that it has come to this. I don't agree with Eamonn Sweeney's view, outlined in these pages last Sunday, that it's an 'ego trip' for players, officials and journalists. In my experience it was nothing of the sort and during my two years in charge of the Irish team, I had players like Seamus Moynihan, Trevor Giles, Ciarán Whelan, John McDermott, Michael Donnellan, Graham Geraghty, Anthony Tohill, Peter Canavan, Glenn Ryan, Darren Fay, Seán óg de Paor and many more of that class. When we played Australia in the Melbourne Cricket Ground, there was nearly 70,000 there; a week later the match in Adelaide was a sell-out because it was a great sporting contest with the best players from both codes taking part. For me, it was a huge honour to be part of it but it is certainly not the same anymore.

What the Irish players always wanted was to measure themselves against the best. Just as an ambitious club player wants to move on to the county so too a player at the top of the game will want to see how he can perform

against the best Australian players. It was hardly ego which brought players from the four corners of Ireland over the last few months to Ashbourne on a Friday and Saturday morning to try and get on this year's team. And many did not even make the panel. For most players the medals or the spoils of victory are not the most important thing; everyone wants to see how far their abilities take them and whether they can compete. Just ask John Doyle. I am sure he regarded playing for Ireland as an honour after well over a decade of loyal service to Kildare.

The international dimension will be decided by the Australians either shaping up or throwing in the towel and even if it is only a glorified exhibition game, it still has its merits in that context. The public would appreciate the spectacle, but only if it is between the best in both countries.

I learned a lot about football from various trips to Australia, so too did players and officials. For players from counties who don't win provincial or All-Ireland titles, it is their shot at the big time. Having said that, it is right that playing for Ireland is not comparable with a championship with club or county which is why I was very surprised that Michael Murphy played on the night before his county final. All is well that ends well but Glenswilly is more important than Ireland. Aidan O'Shea made the opposite decision to play with Breaffy in last week's Mayo final – it did not work out as well for him but it was the right thing to do. If a club player got injured in one of these Tests and missed his county final, he might be seeking a change of address as the locals are harder on their heroes than anyone else.

Whether the series survives will not exercise many minds over the winter. The sceptics will be happy to see the back of it. Hard to argue against that either. The Irish have always reached out, listened, learned, prepared well and generally sought to do things right. Whether it is arrogance or bad manners in dealing with the amateurs, the Aussies are just not interested in playing ball anymore.

Sunday Independent

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