Martin Breheny: Aussies' fatal flaw is just not being up to it
Ireland 2-12-9 (57) Australia 1-7-8 (35)
THERE were moments, on a pleasant autumn night in Kingspan Breffni Park, when it was easy to let the mind wander back to occasions when the International Rules game produced enough electricity to power a small town.
Sadly, that's no longer the case as the ambivalent attitude of the Australians to the mixed game has stripped away much of its appeal.
The AFL attempted to fool us into believing that choosing a squad comprised only of indigenous players would give this series a new, exciting dimension but reality intervened early to deliver the unquestionable conclusion that the visiting squad carried the fatal flaw of just not being up to the challenge.
Worse still, they committed what the sporting world would regard as unthinkable for any Australian team.
Unrelenting courage and determination has always been part of the Australian psyche but both were missing on Saturday night, allowing Ireland's efficiency to bank a 22-point lead going into next Saturday's second Test in Croke Park.
Full credit to Ireland for exploiting Australia's inefficiencies but then they were always going to be well organised under Paul Earley's meticulous planning.
However, his task was made easier than expected by an Australian squad that seems to be vying with last year's lot for the dubious distinction of being the worst ever to represent the country.
Apart from a spell in the third quarter and early in the final quarter when they cut a 25-point lead down to eight, Australia were totally out-classed. Indeed, that Australian revival may well have been down to a lapse in concentration by Ireland, who always looked as if they could shift through several more gears if required.
Australia trailed 39-31 after 61 minutes but imploded on the run-in as a goal from Kevin McLoughlin decorated Ireland's finishing burst which yielded a total of 18 points while Australia managed only four.
It leaves them battling for pride only next Saturday. For while history shows that the visiting team usually does better in the second Test, it's impossible to see Australia wipe out this lead.
Dublin's Paul Flynn, who played very well on Saturday, suggested afterwards that the slicker Croke Park surface would suit the Australians better than a Breffni Park pitch which had taken heavy rain in previous days, but then Ireland will also benefit from the better conditions.
"Their players are fast and agile. That ground out there probably slowed them down. They weren't able to side-step as much as they would like. They will be very quick next week," he said.
Perhaps so, but speed won't compensate for their many other inadequacies, led by their failure to apply consistent pressure on the opposition.
"Our ability to apply pressure was non-existent in the first half. Our guys got a real wake-up call," said Australian manager, Michael O'Loughlin.
Given the hand he was dealt, there was little he could do to make his side more competitive but the question does arise as to why the Australians only brought 21 players when 23 are allowed (15 plus eight interchange).
When asked afterwards as to why that was the case, his explanation was less than convincing.
""We were expecting a couple more but one was expecting a baby," he said. "He's due to come over and hopefully we can get him across quick smart. He's a good player.
"It doesn't matter if we brought 18, the effort we had tonight was not good. It was not what I require."
O'Loughlin talked up the Irish performance and while there was certainly a lot to commend it, context is everything. The truth is that Ireland didn't have to do anything particularly special to overpower opponents who were outclassed in the fundamentals.
Kicking the round ball has always presented the Australians with a problem but their better teams compensated by playing a pressure game which ensured that not only did they win plenty of possession but they also harried Ireland into making mistakes.
It was all so different on Saturday as Ireland were given time and space to pick their passes. In those fruitful circumstances, Ireland should have done better but were sloppy in their finishing, kicking no fewer than nine wides in the first half.
Given the width between the outside posts, that won't have pleased Earley but Ireland got away with it because of the weakness of the opposition.
Ireland led by 13 points at the end of the first quarter and by 12 at half-time. They extended the advantage to 25 points in the 50th minute before hitting a wobbly period, during Australia outscored them 17-0.
The Australians should have had a goal early in the final quarter but Steven Motlop hit the angle of crossbar and upright from a few yards out.
Rattled by the Australian revival, Ireland refocused and drove on again in the final 10 minutes to establish a lead which all but guarantees a series win.
Earley warned afterwards that Ireland could take nothing for granted, especially since goals are worth six points, but it would be some turnaround if the Australians rescued this situation.
"We won't underestimate them in any way. We saw the way they improved as the game went on. That will give them a lot of confidence. We will be leaving nothing to chance," he said.
He's quite right, of course, but unless the Australians show a massive improvement, they are headed for another big defeat.
Presumably, they will work on their pressure game in training this week and while that will bring about an improvement, they are a long way short of the standards set by previous Australian teams.
That's bad for Australia and even worse for the sustainability of the series.
Scorers – Ireland: R Munnelly 0-2-3 (9pts); M Murphy 0-2-1 (7); K McLoughlin 1-0-0 (6), Z Tuohy 1-0-0 (6), C Byrne 0-1-1 (4), C McManus 0-1-1 (4) C Sheehan 0-1-1 (4), C Boyle 0-1-0 (3), C Begley 0-1-0 (3), A O'Shea 0-1-0 (3), S Cavanagh 0-1-0 (3), P Flynn 0-1-0 (3), J McCaffrey 0-0-1 (1), C Kilkenny 0-0-1 (1). Australia: S Motlop 0-2-2 (8pts), J Neade 1-0-0 (6), L Franklin 0-1-3 (6), Lewis Jetta 0-1-0 (3), Leroy Jetta 0-1-0 (3), Alwyn Davey 0-1-0 (3), M Stokes 0-1-0 (3), D Wells 0-0-1 (1), D Barry 0-0-1 (1), Aaron Davey 0-0-1 (1).
Ireland – P O'Rourke (Meath); N McGee (Donegal), F Hanley (Galway), C McKaigue (Derry); L Keegan (Mayo), Z Tuohy (Laois), J McCaffrey (Dublin); A Walsh (Cork), S Cavanagh (Tyrone); P Flynn (Dublin), C Byrne (Louth), C Sheehan (Cork); P McBrearty (Donegal), M Murphy (Donegal), R Munnelly (Laois). Interchange: C Begley (Laois), C Boyle (Mayo), P Conroy (Galway), C Kilkenny (Dublin), K McLoughlin (Mayo), C McManus (Monaghan), A O'Shea (Mayo), M Shields (Cork).
Australia – A McGrath; J Harbrow, C Yarran, T Armstrong; C Ellis-Yolmen, N Lovett-Murray, Aaron Davey; L Franklin, D Wells; S Motlop, L Thomas, Lewis Jetta; E Betts, M Stokes, J Hill. Interchange: Leroy Jetta, S Wellingham, S Edwards, Alwyn Davey, D Barry, J Neade.
Ref – M Deegan (Laois) & M Stevic (Australia)