Friday 23 August 2019

Colm O'Rourke: We saw one obvious rule in Australia series that GAA law-makers must consider

18 November 2017; Nat Fyfe of Australia is tackled by Niall Grimley of Ireland during the Virgin Australia International Rules Series 2nd test at the Domain Stadium in Perth, Australia. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile
18 November 2017; Nat Fyfe of Australia is tackled by Niall Grimley of Ireland during the Virgin Australia International Rules Series 2nd test at the Domain Stadium in Perth, Australia. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

In a series which went largely unnoticed in this country and in Australia, there were still important questions to be answered.

The most obvious is why handpassing can’t be restricted in our game when it can be confined to six consecutive handpasses in international rules.

Obviously the GAA’s rules committee have decided that our referees can’t count. A limit of four would do wonders for Gaelic football, especially if there was a ban on playing the ball back across half-way and passing back to the goalkeeper.

The first half of yesterday’s match in Perth was largely a football match. Ireland were able to kick points from the wings while the Aussies worked it in close and were looking for goals (six-pointers), something which they are quite unfamiliar with. The crowd only came to life at the end of the first half when there was a mini-melee and most of the supporters seemed to be Irish.

A Saturday evening game, a few drinks and the Irish are just as much at home in Perth as in Croke Park.

Early on, Shane Walsh, Gary Brennan, Darren Hughes and Conor McManus showed well for Ireland. The Aussies could not cope with the speed of Walsh nor the accuracy of McManus, while the Irish tackling was as effective as Australia’s.

The Australians smelled blood in the third quarter but the Irish hung in on limited possession and McManus’s kicking was superb. Yet the hand speed of the Aussies was very impressive and their elusiveness was something the Irish could not cope with. Nat Fyfe and Eddie Betts were outstanding for Australia. Maybe some rich sponsor in the GAA would sign them up for some county team. They would light up Croke Park.

The longer the game went on the more dominant Australia became. While Ireland led at the end of the first three quarters they were not able to maintain the pace. The Aussie intensity increased and their supporters began to find their voice. The tackle rate went up on the Australian side and as the Irish tired they were caught in possession more as sloppy kicking and slow minds turned the game and the series towards the home team.

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Their delight at the end showed it meant a lot to the players so there is no question of it being a dead duck from the Australian side.

The idea of moving it to the United States next year has merit in that there are enough Irish out there to fill big stadiums — the Ireland v All Blacks rugby Test in Chicago showed that clearly.

The cynics will suggest that there is more than enough to sort out in our own game without trying to export a hybrid form of football. Yet for all that there is a huge amount already learned from the international series and any coach watching this could try and copy the Aussie handpassing technique, their support play and offloading before the tackle. That has as much merit in our game as theirs.

The absence of Dublin players did hamper Ireland and it is a pity that being committed to their clubs has ensured that they were not available for selection. Philly McMahon, James McCarthy, Con O’Callaghan and Brian Fenton just to name a few would have added greatly to the Irish strength. Overall, the best Irish players were McManus and Walsh, though Walsh gave away a lot of ball. Michael Murphy and Aidan O’Shea were prominent early on but faded when the pressure came on in the last quarter. Some of the players from weaker counties really struggled, which shows that the best players are in the best counties. Fairly obvious I suppose. The exception was Gary Brennan from Clare, who was one the best on our side.

This game was very enjoyable. The players love it and are committed on both sides of the world. It is also self-financing so there is no reason for it not to continue. Clubs and counties who have lost their best young players to Australia might not agree as it is the international series which more or less started the poaching. Yet that is the price of a free world and the lure of professionalism. This series should not suffer from that and is certainly worth retaining and promoting.

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