Tuesday 24 October 2017

Hands up for 'open slather'

Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

I sure hope that the Irish Independent won't be charged with being an accessory to the crime if Friday's second International Rules Test turns into 'Mayhem at the Metricon' up on the Gold Coast.

Beaten to the point of humiliation in Melbourne last Friday, the Australians are hurting badly. Their coach Rodney Eade accused some of them of not being fit enough: hell, worse, he said they couldn't run.

"If you turn up and you're not in good enough shape and you can't run, it's disgraceful. You are taking it (the Australian jersey) under false pretences," he said.

The remedy? Pump up the aggression. No "punching and whatever" promised Eade, although quite how that tallies with his comment that "the gloves are off" is unclear.

"Tackle aggressively. Bowl them over. We're making a stand." Eade's commitment to aggression was backed up by a promise that he would take responsibility for it. All very ominous.

Dear, dear, surely we're not heading for 'open slather' territory again. Remember 2006 and Australia's dark mutterings about 'open slather' before the second Test in Croke Park. Nobody quite knew what precisely it meant, but we didn't like the sound of it. And with good reason too, since its ferocity left Graham Geraghty in hospital and very nearly ended the International Rules game.

We don't know what the Australians are planning to bring to the Metricon Stadium on Friday, but there has to be concerns that a group of professionals -- who lost by 44 points to amateurs -- will try to redeem pride by whatever means they can.

Now if the Australia players weren't embarrassed enough by the performance and the harsh comments of their coach, they will have been mortified to see large chunks of the Irish Independent report of the first Test reproduced in Monday's 'Herald Sun' newspaper.

Splashed across four columns, it reports that under a heading 'Ireland roll over pathetic Aussies' the Indo accused Australia of being gutless. It also noted that the Australians were described as playing like white towel salesmen and of walking away from battle long before the end. For a country which prides itself on an indomitable spirit, that will hurt.

In the case of the Aussie team, it happens to be true, but they still won't like to hear it from a country that had already stung them in the Rugby World Cup.

The 'Herald Sun' has done its bit to up the motivation levels by carrying the Indo's more cutting remarks about the Australian team and all we can do is hope that it won't inspire them to heights they certainly didn't appear capable of reaching last Friday.

It was interesting that Australia's first reaction to defeat was to promise more aggression. No more 'nice football' and all that. Still, Eade's plan to ramp up the aggression may be as straightforward as it looks and not based on any mischievous intent. After all, Australia appeared half-hearted in much of what they did last Friday.

It wasn't that their tackling was poor, it was more a question of not getting close enough to the Irish players to make contact in the first place. So if the plan is to squeeze down space, and deliver the tackles that will disrupt the smooth pattern which Ireland developed last week, that's perfectly acceptable.

However, if as in 2006, it's to use gratuitous violence as a means of 'softening up' the opposition, then it has got to be pre-empted. The GAA ignored the 'open slather' remarks the week before the 2006 second Test but, by the Sunday evening, they were threatening to abandon the series permanently. A few quiet words at top level wouldn't have gone amiss then and, armed with the memory of that bitter experience, the same applies now.

A return to violence would definitely end the series, but now there's another threat too -- Australian apathy. The Australian public have been losing interest and the worst performance by their team in the 27-year history of the series last Friday won't help the cause.

It seems there's no problem getting many of the top names to play when it's Australia's turn to come to Ireland, but they are less interested in breaking their off-season down time for the home games.

Last Friday's attendance of 22,921 was down almost 20,000 on the 2008 Test in Melbourne, down 22,300 on 2005 and 37,300 less than the 2003 turnout in the MCG. It's a slide that needs to be arrested if the series is to have a future because however high the turnout in Ireland, it has to work both ways.

Of course, here's the irony. A pinch of sulphur (which apparently is to be expected on Friday) adds to the public interest, yet too much can lead to an explosion, threatening to blow the entire thing apart.

So far, the correct balance hasn't been found. It needs to be if the series is to survive and prosper.

Irish Independent

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