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Why Begley needs to have day in the sun

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Laois native Colm Begley knows he has to shine for Ireland in Friday's first Rules test if he is to continue his professional career in Aussie Rules

Laois native Colm Begley knows he has to shine for Ireland in Friday's first Rules test if he is to continue his professional career in Aussie Rules

Laois native Colm Begley knows he has to shine for Ireland in Friday's first Rules test if he is to continue his professional career in Aussie Rules

PERFORMING well is a matter of national pride and personal satisfaction for all of the Irish squad in the two International Rules games, but Colm Begley has an added incentive to showcase his talents before big crowds in Perth and Melbourne and on live TV across Australia.

With his future as a Brisbane, this is an opportunity to parade his talents in front of the broad AFL market.

Pride

That's quite a bonus, although he is making a clear distinction between club and country. An enthusiastic supporter of the International Rules concept, he says nobody should under-estimate the sense of personal pride players from both countries feel when wearing the international jersey.

He dismisses the suggestion that the Australians have a natural advantage because of their full-time training schedules, pointing out that when he first arrived in Brisbane he was one of the fittest players in the club.

"It was the same with Martin Clarke. GAA players are training professionally nowadays, so there are no fitness problems when it comes to playing Australia," Begley says.

"They are professionals and train a lot but there are a lot of Irish players who are working all day in physical jobs. It's all about strength of mind and character. Australia have a small, fast team this time. They have some strong lads too, but haven't gone for pure brute strength."

That suggests they're conscious of the need to help ensure that this series is incident-free. Begley believes that the problems in the past have been caused essentially by a clash of cultures.

"The tackle is a very hard thing to master.

"GAA players spend their whole lives being told not to pull a fella to the ground and then they're told they can do it in the International game. Your instinct is still to stop and corral or hit him with the shoulder because that's what's in your head," he said.

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He believes that last test in Croke Park in 2006 was an accident waiting to happen as the rivalry had been built up to such a degree that an explosion was always likely.

"It was a case of who's going to back down first. We're two very strong-minded countries -- something was bound to give."

The Australians become annoyed by certain aspects of the Irish approach, principally when the ball is on the ground and feet fly dangerously close to hands. However, with both squads warned to be on their best behaviour, the potential for trouble has been reduced.

That will meet with general approval but Begley does not want the game to lose its physical edge.

"I saw the rules and there's no bumping allowed, but the game needs a bit of that. You want a bit of confidence and a bit of bumping," he said.

He has no doubt that Ireland's prospects of winning the series for the first time since 2004 rely on their capacity to get the ball in quickly to the forwards. Also, they must stay with the Australians, especially in the third quarter, which has traditionally been Ireland's slackest period.

As the only player who knows the Aussie style and mentality in detail, Begley will be a key member of the Irish side, just as he was in the last series two years ago. Back then, of course, he was hoping to make it big with Brisbane, a scenario that looks unlikely in the light of recent developments.

However, if he can deliver two big performances, it would greatly enhance his prospects of being signed by another club if the Brisbane situation goes wrong.

"Right now, all I'm thinking about is Ireland. There's plenty time to worry about other things in a few weeks. Ireland haven't won a series for a few years so it's about time to turned things around. Playing for my country is one of the best things that I can do in life," he said.

While his future in AFL is uncertain, he has no regrets about taking his chance to move to Australia when the opportunity arose. It was tough at the start but once he settled in, he enjoyed the new way of life.

"It's a great job to do because you get up in the morning and train -- I play sport for a living and that's a dream come true."

With his Aussie Rules career at a crossroads, the next two weeks could be crucial. Irrespective of what happens in Brisbane he is determined to pursue his career in Australia, even if the Laois public would love to see him return to play a part in the new regime about to emerge under Sean Dempsey.


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