Tuesday 10 December 2019

Colm O'Rourke: The first two quarters yesterday were an embarrassment for Gaelic football

'A stranger might have surmised that Ireland were the side who had to change the football'. Picture credit: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE
'A stranger might have surmised that Ireland were the side who had to change the football'. Picture credit: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE
Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

The first two quarters in Perth yesterday were an embarrassment for Gaelic football and the players representing it.

Our best players could only score one point, and that was from a free. While Ireland tried to play a static game from mark to mark, the Australians were much more fluid. We expected their speed of hand and thought, but most alarming was their comfort with the round ball. A stranger might have surmised that Ireland were the side who had to change the football.

The faults of our game were laid bare in that first half. Handpass, handpass, handpass. It has become institutionalised. Yes, the limit on handpasses from four to six in a row was supposed to help the Australians, and it did, but they got caught several times overdoing it and lost possession, even with the referee counting them out. Who would say that it would not work in our game? Of course there is also the probability that the ball could then be kicked backwards to hold possession, but something has to give.

The other rule about the ball travelling over the 45m line from kick-outs was again supposed to help Australia but Dustin Fletcher, the Aussie keeper, kept kicking to the same place and Ireland did well in this area. So too with our own kick-outs. This could also benefit Gaelic football, but a windy day could make it difficult for a keeper to get the ball beyond the 45m line. Having to hand the ball to an opponent in the case of a free is a great idea - it would immediately stop all these wrestling matches for the ball which are a blight on our game.

The Aussies' running, handpassing game has also developed as a result of international rules. They use the closed fist and their handpasses are quicker and more accurate.

The big change over the years in these matches is that the body shape of both sides now is remarkably similar. Gone are the Aussie beanpoles: the only one near that description was the giant Nic Naitanui, who was useful at the throw-ups at the start of each quarter but a fish out of water otherwise. Now players are runners and more skilful, fitness levels on the Irish side have improved, but the game of Gaelic football has degenerated as a result. The Australians had some gifted players like the outstanding Jarrad McVeigh, while Steve Johnson, Nick Riewoldt and Robbie Gray are the sort every county would like to have. The Irish had their own stars. Seán Cavanagh was our best player. David Moran, Mattie Donnelly and Ciaran McManus were also very good.

At the very least Ireland showed spirit in the face of what looked like annihilation. They went back to football in the second half and played more in the style they are comfortable with. It rattled the Aussies, who had decided that the game was over. Ireland won the third quarter by 10 points. The need was for goals, which are worth six points, but a few chances were butchered early on by Irish players who were slow in thought and movement.

It was obvious from early on that the Aussies were motivated and committed. The shambles of the last few years was not going to be repeated. The crowd were great too and enjoyed the evening's entertainment.

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The first two quarters had taken care of the business end of things from the home side's point of view. It is a pity that there is not another game - surely a second Test on Friday night would not totally disrupt the Australian pre-season training regime?

And so international rules staggers on. The quality of this game was good and supporters will go to see the top players against each other. The ball is now firmly in the Aussie court - they have responded positively after insulting the series last year and must now sign up to a two-game series or else fold up their tent altogether.

I do not know who needs this series more - the Aussies need an international link, and playing one game in some place like New York next year and one in Ireland is not a crazy idea. The Irish could, of course, decide to stick their heads in the sand and abandon ship too. Maybe even thinking we have a great game which does not need contamination from Down Under. Hopefully there are few of those around.

The quality of our game was ultimately shown in the scoring. The Aussies scored 17 points in our currency, we scored nine. Who has more to learn?

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