Friday 19 January 2018

Failure to secure net gains costs Irish

Tohill's men show energy and commitment in abundance but poor execution in both Tests proves decisive
Australia 0-14-13 (55)
Ireland 1-11-13 (52)

Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

SIX minutes from the end, Ireland were poised not only to win the second International Rules Test but also to wipe out the seven-point deficit from the first game and take the series.

The crowd of 61,842 -- a turnout which proves that despite the critics who depict the game as a sporting abomination with no merits, the mixed game remains popular with the public -- were in full voice, with the vast majority willing Anthony Tohill's men to maintain the momentum that had enabled them to turn a 17-point deficit into a four-point lead.

Two splendid 'overs' from Donegal's Michael Murphy put Ireland 52-48 ahead, leaving them just three points behind on aggregate. Given that they had out-scored Australia 14-0 at one point in the final quarter, they were in a great position to achieve what so few other teams had done by winning the series after losing the first game.


But it wasn't to be. Dane Swan, voted Australian player of the series, kicked a 'behind' and suddenly Ireland's momentum was broken. Australia kicked two more 'overs', leaving them three-point winners on the night and 10 points clear over the two Tests.

Ireland had a late chance to snatch a second Test win, if not outright victory, but Daniel Goulding's attempt for a goal was blocked by Dustin Fletcher. It was a fitting end to the series, as it underlined in graphic terms just how versatile the Australians are.

Their game doesn't have a specialist goalkeeper but Fletcher adapted expertly. His reading of when to stay on the line and when to act as an extra defender was central to Australia's defensive stability, as they restricted Ireland to a single goal in either Test. It was a poor return for Ireland in an aspect of play where they should have a clear advantage over the Australians but then, it wasn't the only area where the home side struggled.

Their kicking again let them down, not least in the final quarter where they enjoyed a monopoly of possession. They headed into the final lap trailing by 10 points (48-38) but two early 'behinds' by Down's Kevin McKernan were the launch pad for a spirited revival. Sean Cavanagh and Michael Murphy (two) kicked three-pointers but Ireland also had five one-pointers (behinds), some of which should have been 'overs'.

The crowd cheered the 'behinds' as enthusiastically as the 'overs', but the reality was that they were showing their approval for what would have been wides in Gaelic football. Both sides kicked 13 'behinds', a return that was disappointing for the Irish players who are accustomed to the round ball. The Australians aren't -- yet they scored some outstanding 'overs', with Brad Green (four), Dane Swan (three), Todd Banfield (two) and Adam Goodes (two) leading the way.

Still, it was a much- improved performance from Ireland on the first Test, certainly from the 49th minute on when Kildare's James Kavanagh booted home the game's only goal after some smart ground play close to the Australian goal.

It was the breakthrough Ireland needed and set them up for a driving finish. Their dominance for long periods in the final quarter was so pronounced that the Australians were driven to the edge of panic as they sought to win possession and launch counter-attacks.

Instead, it was Ireland who drove forward in powerful waves. They won a constant stream of possession, passed crisply as they worked the ball into scoring positions only to be let down by their finishing. Had they managed to convert even two of the 'behinds' into 'overs', they would have won the game, but it wasn't to be on a night that again raised questions about the standard of kicking in Gaelic football.

Nobody could dispute the energy and commitment that Ireland brought to what was always going to be a difficult challenge, which, if it were to be overcome, needed greater consistency in terms of moving the ball into scoring positions and availing of opportunities.

Ireland started brightly, scoring four points in the opening two minutes, but the Australians responded quickly to out-score Ireland 16-9 in the first quarter. They maintained momentum in the second quarter, which they won 12-8 to lead 28-17 at half-time.

They extended the advantage to 17 points in the third quarter before Ireland finally asserted themselves and launched a brave bid to save the game and the series. Colm Begley, who was voted Irish player of the series, McKernan, Michael Murphy, Bernard Brogan, Benny Coulter and Tommy Walsh all figured prominently as Ireland drove forward.

But with their shooting for 'overs' not up to the required standard, they needed to break through for a second goal to really trouble the Australians and they rarely looked like achieving it. Ultimately, that was one of the more disappointing aspects of Ireland's game over the two Tests. They scored just two goals in 144 minutes of action, which was an indictment of their ability to create openings against the opposition.

Ireland also lost out for long periods in key areas such as ball retention, passing and creating space. They more than matched Australia when it came to energy and effort but, in the end, it wasn't enough to win either game.

While it was disappointing for Ireland to lose both games, the manner of their recovery in the third and fourth quarters was most encouraging and showed that, with a little more precision, they are well capable of matching the Australians. As in Limerick a week earlier, the game was played in a great spirit, albeit much more aggressively than the first Test, providing excellent entertainment.

The only time the referees were called on to intervene in a meaningful way was in the second quarter when it was discovered that Ireland had 16 players on the pitch. The teams were counted, leaving Ireland caught red-handed in what they would later categorise as an error in the interchange system.

Scorers-- Australia: B Green 0-4-4 (16), D Swan 0-3-1 (10), T Banfield 0-2-2 (8), A Goodes 0-2-1 (7), J McVeigh 0-1-1 (4), L Montagna 0-1-1 (4), E Betts 0-1-0 (3), J Frawley, K Jack, P Dangerfield 0-0-1 (1) each. Ireland: M Murphy, B Coulter 0-2-0 (6) each, J Kavanagh 1-0-0 (6), B Brogan, S McDonnell, S Cavanagh, K McKernan 0-1-2 (5) each, C Begley, B Murphy 0-1-1 (4) each, T Kennelly 0-1-0, T Walsh 0-0-3 (3) each.

Australia -- D Fletcher; J Frawley, T Goldsack, G Ibbotston; P Duffield, L Picken, B Gibbs; D Cross, D Swan; T Varcoe, B Green, P Dangerfield; L Montagna, A Goodes, T Banfield. Interchange: J McVeigh, M Boyd, K Simpson, J Riewoldt, S Gilbert, K Jack, E Betts, D Wojcinski

Ireland -- S Cluxton (Dublin); C McKeever (Armagh), F Hanley (Galway), B Donaghy (Armagh); S McDermott (Roscommon), G Canty (Cork), K Reilly (Meath); T Walsh (Kerry & St Kilda); C Begley (Laois); L Glynn (Wicklow), S McDonnell (Armagh), T Kennelly (Kerry & Sydney Swans); M Clarke (Down), S Cavanagh (Tyrone), B Brogan (Dublin). Interchange: D Goulding (Cork), J Kavanagh (Kildare), P Keenan (Louth), K McKernan (Down), B Murphy (Carlow), M Murphy (Donegal), M Shields (Cork), B Coulter (Down).

RefS -- P McEnaney (Monaghan) & B Rosebury (Australia).

Irish Independent

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