Blizzard in Oz blows Ireland's hopes away
Australia 0-15-8 (53) Ireland 2-10- 8 (50) (Australia win 116-103 on agg)
There is no worse feeling in sport than the realisation that an opportunity has been lost, a big prize left behind as a result of mistakes that could have been avoided.
The Irish International Rules squad endured that horrible experience on Saturday, leaving enough regrets to haunt them all the way home from Australia.
As they watched the Aussies celebrate with the Cormac McAnallen Cup after what was the last big event in the soon-to-be-demolished Domain Stadium in Perth, they knew the truth and it wasn't pleasant.
Irish teams have a special affinity with the McAnallen Cup, named after the inspirational Tyrone man who died at the age of 24 in 2004.
They hate leaving it in Australia, especially in the unfortunate circumstances which arose on Saturday. Needing to win by more than 10 points to take the series on scoring aggregate after losing 63-53 in Adelaide six days earlier, Ireland led 33-17 when Shane Walsh kicked an ' over' early in the second-half.
The chance was there: could Ireland take it? The answer was 'no'.
Slowly, but relentlessly, the Australians picked their way back and, without landing a goal (six points), still managed to outscore Ireland 36-17 from there on.
It was 11-4 to the home side in 'overs' (points in Gaelic football) in that period, underlining the dramatic momentum shift which took place.
Australia took the lead for the first time late in the final quarter and while Ireland recovered and pulled three points clear, 'overs' from the irrepressible Eddie Betts and top scorer Dayne Zorko left Ireland devastated.
Being nudged out in a tight finish was an all-too-familiar experience for Ireland captain Aidan O'Shea, having endured it with Mayo on a number of occasions over the past five years.
He played well, as did Conor McManus, who was adjudged Ireland's Man of the Series after scoring a total of 40 points in the two games. Zac Tuohy, Michael Murphy, Shane Walsh, Kevin Feely and Eoin Cadogan also did well.
Overall, though, there was a lack of control about Ireland's game in the closing stages, which allowed Australia to exert authority.
And so began the litany of explanations, delivered by players and management to the backdrop of the ecstatic hosts blasting out a raucous rendition of 'Advance Australia Fair'.
Joe Kernan: "We had the game in the palm of our hands and didn't hold it. A loss of composure cost us. That game was there for the taking in the last quarter. The boys put in a terrific effort, but we made too many mistakes after having such a great start.
"In the third quarter alone we lost the ball nine times, six in our own half-back line area. You can't afford to do that against an Australian side as good as this one."
Aidan O'Shea: "In the fourth quarter, we went away from what we had been doing well. We started to rush things and lost our shape a bit."
Shane Walsh: "We put a huge effort into restricting them in the third quarter. Maybe fatigue kicked in after that - we started making mistakes we hadn't been making earlier."
Neil Grimley: "Our kick-passing maybe slightly let us down.
Paul Geaney: "We lost kick-outs, two or three at the end and they got three pointers and that killed us."
Gary Brennan: "It's disappointing that after starting so well we didn't maintain it."
Walsh's comments may come closest to explaining why Ireland lost the final quarter 19-9.
They had expended huge amounts of energy in the first-half as they battled to wipe out the 10-point deficit from the first Test and build a sizeable lead.
Australia's advantage was wiped out midway through the first quarter when goals from Chris Barrett and Gary Brennan helped Ireland to a 13-1 lead.
"It was exactly what we wanted. Everything we planned for came up right. We put them on the back foot and showed how we could play," said Kernan.
And so it continued for the first-half, which ended with Ireland leading 30-17. Australia had also lost Joel Selwood, one of their top stars, who was despatched to the line after a late, high and reckless lunge at Chris Barrett.
It sparked a clash between the squads as the siren sounded, evoking memories of former days and unruly scenes which were so common in International Rules.
Times have changed. With players liable for suspension in their own codes for misbehaviour in the international game, they are far more circumspect these days.
The flashpoint passed quickly and with the half-time break cooling temperatures, referees Maurice Deegan and Matt Stavic had a relatively easy second-half.
The only talking point arose when O'Shea was flattened by Nat Fyfe, Australia's Man of the Series.
"A forearm smash - it should have been a red card," fumed Kernan.
O'Shea was less outraged, opting to make nothing of it.
"I'm not going to get into the refereeing, it was a tough contest. There were a couple of things maybe, but we're not going to cry over them. We had chances to win the game and our downfall was our own mistakes," he said.
Kernan was also unhappy with the treatment meted out to Michael Murphy.
"He was tortured all day. I don't mind anyone being targeted if they get cover, Michael got no cover today," he said.
Kernan did acknowledge that it wasn't the reason Ireland lost, a point generally conceded by the squad.
They left themselves with an awful lot to do after Adelaide and while they put themselves in a position to win the Series, it was always asking an awful lot to beat such powerful opposition by more than 10 points.
Also, they were over-reliant on McManus and Murphy for scorers. Between them they accounted for 66 (McManus 40, Murphy 26) of Ireland's 103 points, with a wide gap to the rest, led by Walsh and Brennan on seven points each.
Walsh's blistering pace and smart game-reading really tested the Australians, who were in awe of the scoring power produced by the McManus-Murphy dual threat.
That trio apart, Ireland's attack were no more than average. Ultimately, that and the injury which ruled Pearce Hanley out for all but 25 minutes of the first Test, were the most important factors of all in edging the series Australia's way.
Scorers - Australia: D Zorko 0-3-1 (10), E Betts 0-2-3 (9), C Wingard, R Sloane 0-2-0 (6 each), Z Merrett 0-1-2 (5), L Shuey, B Browne 0-1-1 (4 each), N Fyfe, S Burgoyne, R Laird 0-1-0 (3 each). Ireland: C McManus 0-5-1 (16), G Brennan 1-0-1 (7), C Barrett 1-0-0 (6), M Murphy 0-2-0 (6), S Walsh 0-1-3 (6), C Sheehan, N Grimley 0-1-0 (3 each), D Hughes, N Murphy, E Smith 0-0-1 (1 each)
IRELAND - N Morgan (Tyrone); B Harrison (Mayo), E Cadogan (Cork), S Powter (Cork); C Sheehan (Cork), Z Tuohy (Geelong & Laois), C Barrett (Mayo); K Feely (Kildare), A O'Shea (Mayo); S Walsh (Galway), D Hughes (Monaghan), N Sludden (Tyrone); P Geaney (Kerry), M Murphy (Donegal), C McManus (Monaghan).
Interchanges: G Brennan (Clare), K Clarke (Cavan), P Crowley (Kerry), N Grimley (Armagh). N Murphy (Sligo), P Murphy (Kerry), E Smith (Roscommon), C Sweeney (Tipperary) .
AUSTRALIA - B Goddard (Essendon); S Burgoyne (Hawthorn), R Tarrant (North Melbourne), K Simpson (Carlton), R Laird (Adelaide Crows), L Shuey (West Coast Eagles); N Jetta (Melbourne) D Zorko (Brisbane Lions); S Higgins (Geelong); P Dangerfield (Geelong Cats), R Sloane (Adelaide Crows); E Betts (Adelaide Crows), N Fyfe (Fremantle), C Wingard (Port Adelaide), B Brown (North Melbourne) Interchanges: T Boak (Port Adelaide), J Gunston (Hawthorn), Z Merrett (Essendon), J Selwood (Geelong)
Refs - M Deegan (Laois) & M Stevic (Australia)