Tuesday 23 January 2018

Axed Rebels legend to overshadow International Rules warm-up

Colm Keys

Colm Keys

It's a match designed to help the touring Australians, but it's sure to be overshadowed by the presence of a man who has been deemed surplus to requirements in Cork hurling.

Sean Og O hAilpin, fresh from his enforced retirement as a Rebel hurler, has been named in a combined Cork universities squad to meet the Australian International Rules team at Pairc Ui Rinn tomorrow night (6.0) and is guaranteed a rapturous reception from those who attend.

O hAilpin has experience of the International Rules game before, having been selected on Pete McGrath's squads in 2004 and 2005. His commitment to the amalgamation of Cork IT and UCC was made before the decision by Denis Walsh not to retain his services in 2011.

The first members of the Australian squad flew into Cork on Sunday night, with the remainder touching down yesterday in time for a light workout at the Mardyke.

Several current Cork squad members will form the basis of the combined universities team including Paul Kerrigan, Colm O'Neill, Ciaran Sheehan, Ray Carey, Paul O'Flynn, Jamie O'Sullivan and Eoghan Cotter. Kerry's Barry John Walsh will also feature in the warm-up.

The Irish squad will gather tomorrow and there is increasing hope that Benny Coulter, one of the most experienced Rules players, will be available.

Coulter was omitted from the 22-man squad named by Anthony Tohill on Thursday, but a vacancy was left by the Ireland manager in the hope that the player would recover from a hamstring injury.

Tohill indicated that Coulter would be available for the second Test in Croke Park on Saturday week but there is now a good chance that the Down man will be in a position to take his place in Limerick for this Saturday's first Test.

Meanwhile, Irish captain Stevie McDonnell says his players will have no qualms about resorting to the superior 'soccer skills' if it helps them to gain an advantage.

The ability to play the round ball on the ground is a weapon the Irish have turned to in the past to avoid the wrap tackle, which is such an integral part of the Australian and International Rules games.

"Soccer skills in this game are very important, especially for forwards," he said. "When you know you're going to be wrapped when the ball bounces in front of you, that's the time to play the ball on the ground because if you are tackled at that stage you've got your free."

But McDonnell denied the Irish had been spending a lot of time practising the techniques along the ground. "I wouldn't say we've been doing a lot of it because we'll be using our natural skills more," he said.

McDonnell is a veteran of the last five series and has noticed significant changes in the make-up of the Australian squads.

"Without a doubt. I feel that the Australian players have become more skilful," he said. "They're picking boys who are better able to adapt to the skills of the game and fellas who are very fast as well, whereas before they might have been going for stronger players for brute force.

"But certainly, now they've gone -- according to Tadhg Kennelly and Marty Clarke who've been out there -- for more of a footballing side."

The concern of unacceptable violence remains, but McDonnell is confident that the 2008 series and the rule changes have helped to bring greater equilibrium between the two games.

"It was played in a good, sporting manner two years ago. Both teams went out to play football and wanted to win and certainly some hits went in, but they were within the rules," he said.

McDonnell believes the rules have not been unfairly tilted in Ireland's favour and that the balance between using the round ball and the tackle keeps it a level playing field.

"One of the biggest skills in the Australian game is the wrap in the tackle and it's a huge part of this game as well. Unless you're really up to speed, you've got to off-load the ball really quickly," he said. "We've got the advantage of the round ball, but I don't think there'd be much of a contest if we played with an oval ball."

Irish Independent

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