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Australians raise the stakes despite warm-up tanking


Michael Murphy is tackled by Scott Sherlock of the VFL Selection during the game in Melbourne. Picture credit: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

Michael Murphy is tackled by Scott Sherlock of the VFL Selection during the game in Melbourne. Picture credit: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE


Michael Murphy is tackled by Scott Sherlock of the VFL Selection during the game in Melbourne. Picture credit: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

Prepare to be humiliated - that was the stark message repeatedly fired at the Irish International Rules team any time they left their hotel in Melbourne over the last few days.

Amid such cocky Aussie certainty, Paul Earley's squad were pleased by their 100-point return against a Victorian Football League selection in a warm-up game.

There's no comparison between what Ireland faced in Sandringham and the furnace they will encounter against Australia in Perth next Saturday but, as a fine-tuning exercise, yesterday's game served its purpose.

Ireland's 100 (9-11-13) to 27 (1-5-6) point victory was largely positive but included some alerts too, not least that they must maintain the tempo and the intensity all the way through.

They dropped both in the closing stages of the third quarter and came under even more pressure in the final quarter which they lost 13-11.

"We didn't finish the game as well as we would have liked. The Australians will be going for the full 72 minutes on Saturday so we have to be ready for that," said Earley.

"We were slack in the third quarter. It got a bit like a challenge game. We dropped off the intensity and weren't able to lift it again in the final quarter."

Even as he spoke, his video analysts were preparing to put together the good and the bad for review.

The good centred mainly on Ireland's creativity in setting up goals, six of which were scored by Colm O'Neill and team captain, Michael Murphy.

O'Neill landed four six-pointers and Murphy added two, while Mayo pair, Aidan O'Shea and Pearse Hanley - now a high AFL achiever with Brisbane Lions - scored a goal each as Ireland exploited the clear advantage accruing from their familiarity with the round ball.


That will apply in Saturday's main event too, but the Australian team, arguably the strongest selection to ever represent the country, will have a range of counter-measures which the VFL outfit lacked.

That will include much more skill, greater physicality and, crucially, a yearning ambition to end Ireland's dominance after Australia's four successive test defeats.

Sean Cavanagh, an International Rules veteran, said that football fans in Melbourne were quick to offer of grim predictions on what awaits Ireland in Perth.

"We were chatting to some Australian supporters and they told us we were in for a hiding.

"They were saying the Australian team had seven captains from AFL teams. We were hearing all about how fast these star players can run and how hard they can hit," said the Tyrone man.

As Ireland's most experienced player - he will win his 13th international cap on Saturday - Cavanagh knows that bluster achieves nothing in these clashes, a reality he will, no doubt, stress to his colleagues.

They went about their business quickly and efficiently yesterday, galloping into the 25-point lead in the first quarter after O'Neill (3) and Murphy (1) hit Australia for four goals.

The local opposition were overwhelmed by the accuracy of Ireland's passing and their capacity to work the ball into goal-scoring positions.

That's always to be expected in a game where all Australian players are working under a handicap, having little experience of the round ball.

However, the Australians have the edge in many of the physical exchanges, not least the tackle, while their hand-speed is also an important antidote to some of Ireland's strong points.

The VFL team used that advantage to good effect at times yesterday, getting the ball away quickly and cleanly.

They were never going to be good enough to really test Ireland, but the full Australian team will, which is why Earley and his support crew have so much to do for the rest of the week.

"We achieved the objectives we set out to achieve in this game - we got a good run-out," he said.

"We did some things reasonably well, but we've also got to work hard in particular areas."

Earley instanced some of Ireland's moves as real positives and also believes that the experience of playing against Australians will be invaluable.

"We can train together as hard as we like but we're still working within our own group.

"We have some guys who haven't played International Rules before so it was important for them to experience the instinct of an Australian and the pace at which they run, the slickness of their handpass and the physicality they bring to their game.


"As well as that, the other Irish lads haven't played this game for a year so this will have helped them to re-adjust," he said.

Ireland will work on tackling drills this week, as it was an area of some concern yesterday.

Earley said that while his players got their hands on the opposition, they didn't always bring them to ground as quickly as they should have.

"We've never mastered the tackle in this game over the years. The fact is that no matter how good we become at it, we won't be as good as the Australians at avoiding the tackle so we've to play to our strengths and concentrate on the four or five things we do well," he said.

The Irish squad travels to Perth tomorrow.

Scorers - Ireland: C O'Neill 30 pts (4-1-3); M Murphy 19 pts (2-1-4); A O'Shea 16 pts (1-3-1); C Cregg 9pts (0-3-0); S Cavanagh 9pts (1-1-0); P Hanley 6 pts (1-0-0); R Munnelly 5pts (0-1-2) ; C Boyle 3pts (0-1-0); D Hughes 1pt (0-0-1); D Moran 1pt (0-0-1); M Donnellly 1pt (0-0-1).

VFL: A Cockie 9pts (1-1-0); L Featherstone 4pts (0-1-1); S Clouston 4pts (0-1-1); J Bolton 3pts (0-1-0); T Pinwill 3pts (0-1-0); N Rippon 1pt (0-0-1); T O'Sullivan 1pt (0-0-1); J Owen 1pt (0-0-1), B Davies 1pt (0-0-1).

Ireland - N Morgan (Tyrone); K McKernan (Down), N McGee (Donegal), C McDonald (Tipperary); C Boyle (Mayo), L Keegan (Mayo), J McCarthy (Dublin); A Walsh (Cork), S Cavanagh (Tyrone); C Cregg (Roscommon), C Begley (Laois); P Hanley (Brisbane Lions & Mayo ); C O'Neill (Cork), M Murphy (Donegal), R Munnelly (Laois).Interchange: M Donnelly (Tyrone), F Hanley (Galway), D Hughes (Monaghan), K McLoughlin (Mayo), D Moran (Kerry), P O'Neill (Kildare), P O'Rourke (Meath), A O'Shea (Mayo).

VFL - E Panozza; T O'Sullivan, T Paule, T Gribble; A Marcon, L Tynan, J Bolton; B Jolley, A Cockie; M Cook, N Newman, S Clouston; L Featherstone, J Magner, T Pinwill. Interchange: A Saad, S Sherlock; B Cavarra, C Lockwood, N Rippon; B Smithwick, B Mahon, J Geary, B Davies, J Owen, E Panozza.

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