Saturday 14 December 2019

Aussies warn Ireland that Test clash could be 'a little heated'

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 05: Joel Selwood of the Cats leads the team out before the AFL 2nd Qualifying Final match between the Hawthorn Hawks and the Geelong Cats at Melbourne Cricket Ground on September 5, 2014 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 05: Joel Selwood of the Cats leads the team out before the AFL 2nd Qualifying Final match between the Hawthorn Hawks and the Geelong Cats at Melbourne Cricket Ground on September 5, 2014 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)
Travis Boak of Port Adelaide Power
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

The Irish International Rules team arrived in Perth from Melbourne yesterday to the sound of the Australian camp pumping up the motivation volume for Saturday's test in Patersons Stadium.

And while the Australians are adamant that there will be no return to the violent days of 2005 and 2006, they are promising a fiery reception for Ireland.

"At times, it might get a little heated but we're going out there to play. We'll play it hard but fair at the same time. We'll have our structures in place," said Port Adelaide's Travis Boak.

Four successive Test defeats in the last two series in 2011 and 2013 has left the Australians facing a real test of their character for a game which could decide if the hybrid game has a future.

Unlike the last two series when Australia fielded weak teams, the AFL has assembled a really powerful outfit for this one-off clash. The entire squad has won All-Australian awards (the equivalent of GAA All Stars) and features no fewer than seven club captains.

It points to a powerful determination to regain lost ground after a dismal decline in 2011 and 2013.

Geelong's Joel Selwood, who has been chosen to captain the star-studded side, said that the attitude this time was one of serious intent.

"A lot of us were non-believers at the start and didn't think the series could get to where it is now. This is the best group of players that we've been able to put together for a long time.

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"The players have been a bit disrespectful to the opportunity to represent the country so we're really proud to get together as a group now. We want to put on a great show," he said.

Australia suffered a setback when Freemantle's Nat Fyfe injured his shoulder during a warm-up game in Sydney yesterday. He will miss Saturday's clash.

The Australian team assembled in Sydney on Sunday and were due travel to Perth last night.

They have admitted that getting used to the round ball is very difficult, even if they have been practising with it on an individual basis for a few weeks. Sydney Swan Jarrad McVeigh said that while the round ball presented the Australians with a real challenge, they were confident of securing an advantage in other areas.

"It's a fast game. There are no throw-ins so it goes back and forth. To bring pressure and hardness around the ball - that's a real area that we can get on top," he said.

Determined

It's obvious from all the comments coming from the Australian camp that they are utterly determined to make amends for the poor showings in Melbourne and Gold Coast in 2011 and in Kingspan Breffni Park and Croke Park last year.

The fact that so many of the top names in AFL have committed to the game underlines the intent Australia are bringing to Perth, a venue where they beat Ireland in 1986-90-2003 and 2005. Ireland's only win in the west Australian city came in 2008, when they edged home by a point.

Ireland came under little sustained pressure in the last two series but that seems certain to change on Saturday. They have worked very hard on the defensive side of the game but, according to Donegal's Neil McGee, getting their kicking working properly is the most crucial dimension for Ireland.

"The big thing for us in the past couple of years was our kicking ability. That is the area that we have an advantage over them. If you're kicking with over 80 pc accuracy then you are in with a good shout," he said.

Ireland kicked well - both in passing and finishing - during Sunday's warm-up game against a Victorian League selection but it will be altogether different on Saturday when the pressure on the man in possession becomes much more intense.

Meanwhile, the future of the series will be discussed later this week when top GAA and AFL officials get together.

It's understood that among the ideas that interest the AFL is playing an International Rules game in America.

"We think there's an opportunity to take the United States on our way to Ireland," said Mark Evans, AFL operations manager.

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