Saturday 7 December 2019

One game 'series' predicted to save ailing International Rules

Ireland manager Paul Earley celebrates beating Australia in the International Rules Second Test at Croke Park in October last year
Ireland manager Paul Earley celebrates beating Australia in the International Rules Second Test at Croke Park in October last year

Cliona Foley

A one-game Test against Australia a month later than usual could be the saviour of the GAA's ailing International Rules series next autumn.

Dwindling attendances and one-sided games over the last two series have put its future in serious jeopardy, especially after last year's campaign, when Australia sent a team of indigenous players to Ireland, with very few of their league's superstars involved.

The GAA and Australian Football League (AFL) are believed to be discussing a new one-game format to try to revive their collaboration, with an announcement expected next week.

It is believed that the favoured solution is to play just one showcase game Down Under in 2014, at a later date in November, when all of Australia's top players would be available for selection.

One of the problems of playing the series in October is that the AFL is on holidays, thus giving players and their clubs an easy out if they want to duck international duty.

The timing also regularly provides selection dilemmas for Ireland at a time when players are still involved in championship action with their clubs.

Ireland team manager Paul Earley said yesterday that a date in November would probably suit both countries better.

"My understanding is that the Australians are very serious about having a very strong team (in 2014)," he said.

"They have committed verbally to getting their best players available. That is the most important thing of all, because we want our best to play their best, that is what the public want to see."

The GAA has tried everything to breath new life into the competition, but last year's games attracted the lowest aggregate crowds in Ireland since the series first started 30 years ago.

"If it is a one-game series, so be it, it is not ideal by any means, you would expect it to be more than that," Earley said.

But he remains convinced that there is still a big appetite for the hybrid international game, especially among the protagonists.

"The top players want to play for their country. All you need to do is to be in the dressing-room before those games and you will see how much it means to them," he said.

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