Friday 23 February 2018

We can't afford another series like this

Violent scenes in forgettable second Test in front of paltry crowd cast more shadows over International Rules’ future
IRELAND (1-13-5) 50 AUSTRALIA (0-7-8) 29
(Ireland win 130-65 on aggregate)

The Ireland team celebrate in the dressing
room after comprehensively defeating
Australia in the second International Rules
test at the Metricon Stadium on the Gold Coast
The Ireland team celebrate in the dressing room after comprehensively defeating Australia in the second International Rules test at the Metricon Stadium on the Gold Coast yesterday Photo: RAY MCMANUS/SPORTSFILE

Martin Breheny, in Gold Coast

THE GAA and the AFL insist that International Rules has a viable future but it can't afford another series like this.

Ireland won by double scores, thanks to a well-constructed campaign and, equally significantly, an opposition so far out of its depth that it was frantically waving for help in the first quarter of the opening match. It got progressively worse for the Australians, who ended up losing by a record margin, while their 29-point total in the second Test at the Metricon Stadium yesterday was the lowest in International Rules history.

First, though, credit to Ireland and the manner in which Anthony Tohill and his support team had them set up for a retrieval mission after losing both Tests last year. Ireland were ready for a tough examination, but Australia couldn't find the right questions.

Instead, they were largely tongue-tied, stuttering their way from chaos to panic. The only period of superiority they enjoyed over 144 minutes of action came in the first 10 minutes yesterday when they went into a seven-point lead.

Ireland's response was swift and emphatic and when they scored 11 unanswered points to lead 12-8 at the end of the final quarter, the only outstanding item on the agenda was the scale of the victory. In the end, it settled at 21 points for the second Test and 65 points overall.

Leighton's Glynn's 32nd-minute goal set Ireland on their way to a 34-23 interval lead, after which the game entered a new and different phase which, briefly, had GAA and AFL officials worried about a possible return to the violence which marred the 2005 and '06 series.

The third quarter was a sparky affair as the aggression levels, which Australia had promised to fire up, rose towards boiling point. Five players were yellow-carded (dismissed for 10 minutes) but with the two referees making it clear that they wouldn't stand for any nonsense, peace was restored and the final quarter meandered to an inevitable conclusion.

Still, Tohill expressed his unease at the third-quarter tensions and admitted he was concerned they would spin out of control.

"It's a very, very fine line. For a while I thought it was going to boil over. I'm relieved to get all my players off the pitch with no injuries. I'm just glad that it settled down and we got the game finished. But it's a fine line when you start asking for that type of aggression," he said, presumably in reference to Australia's promise to bring a harder edge to the second Test.

Finian Hanley and Ciaran McKeever were yellow-carded in the third quarter; Michael Murphy had suffered a similar fate in the second. All three played very well overall, while Tadhg Kennelly, Colm Begley, Kieran Donaghy, Leighton Glynn, Tommy Walsh and Pearce Hanley were outstanding.

Kennelly was chosen as Irish Player of the Series (James Kelly won the Australian award) -- his natural aptitude for the game enabled him to make a really big contribution to Ireland's success.

It was Kennelly's final Test and he admitted to being hit with a wave of emotion during the National Anthem.

As to his future, he's undecided.

"I've an awful lot to consider and I'll take my time. I'll travel a bit and see a bit of the world, rather than going from Ireland to Australia as I've been doing for 12 years," he said.

Tohill suggested that Kennelly's performance was so good that he would probably attract offers to delay his AFL retirement.

"I don't know why he's played his last match. If Tadhg can put on that level of performance in this game at international level, why is he retiring? I'm sure his phone will be hopping over the next few days with other clubs looking to avail of his services," said Tohill.

"He's a wonderful guy to have around, a great inspiration for younger players. I would've thought another AFL club would've been snapping him up rather than letting him swan off into retirement. He's too young for that."

Kennelly really enjoyed himself but then so did his colleagues, who had a point to prove after the double disappointment last year.

They were hugely efficient in both games, working the basics well and using their superior skills with the round ball to frustrate the opposition. Granted, this was probably the worst Australian team since the series was resumed in 1998, for in addition to their problems with the round ball, they were outmuscled physically.

That's most unusual in a GAA v AFL battle but it was very much the case this time. In the circumstances, Australia's case was tried from early in the first Test and with Ireland taking a 44-point advantage to Gold Coast, it came as no surprise that the game didn't capture the imagination of the local public.

The official attendance was given as 12,545, underlining a catastrophic collapse in interest by the Australian public, who clearly had no faith in this team from the start. Coach Rodney Eade did his best to hype it up during the week, promising a much more aggressive performance but, ultimately, that was never going to be enough, given their failure to master the basics.

Besides, they lacked the physical presence to impose themselves on Ireland and even when the mood darkened in the third quarter, there was never any sense that the Australians were about to gain a psychological edge by winning the hand-to-hand battle.

The third-quarter friction seemed to draw the creativity from the game as the

second half yielded only 22 points, with Ireland winning 16-6. Australia managed just one score (a 'behind') in the third quarter.

By then, Ireland were playing comfortably within themselves, secure in the knowledge that they were on their way to another comprehensive win.

Last-quarter 'overs' by Eamonn Callaghan, Murphy and Walsh saw Ireland close out a game which also marked the end of Steven McDonnell's Test career. He scored nine points yesterday to take his series total to 27 and his career haul to 118.

It was a fitting departure for McDonnell who, like Kennelly, did so much for Ireland's cause over several years.

As for the series itself, it served as a reminder that, when Ireland are well focused and properly prepared, they can more than match the Australian professionals, even if on this occasion the opposition was ineffective. Still, Ireland could only beat what was in front of them which they did with authority.

The Cormac McAnallen trophy was jointly accepted by captain Stephen Cluxton and vice-captain McKeever, with the Armagh man making the victory speech, completing what was a very good series for him and, more especially, Ireland.

Scorers -- Ireland: S McDonnell 0-3-0 (9pts); T Walsh 0-3-0 (9pts); L Glynn 1-0-1 (7pts), K Donaghy 0-2-1 (7pts), M Murphy 0-2-1 (7pts); E Callaghan 0-1-0 (3pts); T Kennelly 0-1-0 (3pts); Joe McMahon 0-1-0 (3pts); K McKernan 0-0-1 (1pt), Z Tuohy 0-0-1 (1pt). Australia: B Green 0-2-4 (10pts), Z Smith 0-3-0 (9pts), M Robinson 0-1-1 (4pts), B McGlynn 0-1-0 (3pts), J Trengove 0-0-1 (1pt), S Milne 0-0-1 (1pt); A Swallow 0-0-1 (1pt).

Ireland -- S Cluxton (Dublin); C McKeever (Armagh), K Reilly (Meath), N McGee (Donegal); K McKernan (Down), P Hanley (Brisbane Lions & Mayo); C Begley (Laois); Z Tuohy (Carlton & Laois), T Kennelly (Sydney Swans & Kerry); L Glynn (Wicklow), T Walsh (Sydney Swans & Kerry), Joe McMahon (Tyrone); M Murphy (Donegal), K Donaghy (Kerry), S McDonnell (Armagh). Interchange: E Bolton (Kildare), E Cadogan (Cork), E Callaghan (Kildare), D Hughes (Monaghan), P Kelly (Cork), B Murphy (Carlow), F Hanley (Galway), A Walsh (Cork).

Australia -- M Suckling (Hawthorn); S Grigg (Richmond), J Frawley (Melbourne), J Kelly (Geelong); D Wojcinski (Geelong), J Patwell (Brisbane Lions), A Swallow (North Melbourne); B Vince (Adelaide), Z Smith (Gold Coast); B McGlynn (Sydney Swans), M Robinson (Carlton), M Nicoksi (West Coast); B Green (Melbourne), A Monfries (Essendon), S Milne (StKilda). Interchange: L Shiels (Gold Coast), J Trengove (Melbourne), C Ward (Greater Western Sydney), R Gray (Port Adelaide), R Nahas (Richmond), E Wood (Western Bulldogs), R Douglas (Adelaide), T McKenzie (Gold Coast).

Refs -- D Coldrick (Ireland) & R Chamberlain (Australia)

Irish Independent

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