Friday 13 December 2019

Coulter in line to land Ireland's Rules armband

Benny Coulter - seen here with team-mate Kieran Donaghy - is one of the contenders to captain Ireland in this series.
Benny Coulter - seen here with team-mate Kieran Donaghy - is one of the contenders to captain Ireland in this series.
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Anthony Tohill will not announce his International Rules squad and captain until Thursday afternoon, when it is expected to be heavily populated by current and former AFL players.

Tohill will assemble his 23-man squad in Dublin for final preparations ahead of next week's first Test in Limerick.

The preliminary 34-man squad gathered in Limerick last weekend for final trials and the selectors were last night in the process of communicating their deliberations to the players.

There is speculation that no current Kerry players will be involved as Kieran Donaghy and Declan O'Sullivan have not been present for recent sessions.

The captaincy, which was held by Sean Cavanagh for the 2008 Tests in Australia, could stay in Ulster, with Armagh's Steven McDonnell and Down's Benny Coulter the two leading contenders.


Coulter has been a Rules specialist for much of the last decade and his aerial ability has been one of the features of successive Irish teams.

McDonnell is also one of the most experienced Rules players around, having toured Australia in 2003, 2005 and 2008.

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He has been in magnificent form during the trials and, if he is selected as captain, he will follow in the footsteps of former Armagh team-mate Kieran McGeeney, who led the team in the ill-fated series in 2006.

The make-up of the squad will definitely include the two Australian-based Kerrymen, as Tadhg Kennelly and Tommy Walsh were both in Limerick at the weekend.

But with Donaghy and O'Sullivan missing recent sessions, it casts a cloud of doubt as to whether there will be any current Kerry players involved.

It will be Walsh's first experience of International Rules. He was named in the 2008 squad but withdrew due to club commitments with Kerins O'Rahillys.

Kennelly also missed the 2008 series because of surgery, but he has returned refreshed after a good season with Sydney Swans.

Other AFL-based players who could make the frame are Derry's Chrissy McKaigue and Mayo's Pearse Hanley, while former AFL players Michael Shields (Cork), Martin Clarke (Down), Colm Begley (Laois) and Brendan Murphy (Carlow) could bring the number of players with AFL links up to eight.

Stephen Cluxton appears to be the preferred goalkeeping choice while Donegal's Michael Murphy and Roscommon's Donie Shine are understood to be strong contenders for places in the final squad.

Another debutant could be Down's powerful half-back Kevin McKernan.

The delay in making the squad public does not lend itself particularly well to the publicity drive required to get the turnstiles clicking in Limerick and Croke Park.

In the past, the GAA has been careful to announce the preliminary squad, the final squad and the captain all on separate dates, but this year that has not happened.

GAA officials are uncertain about the potential crowds for both Tests but it is not anticipated that either the Gaelic Grounds, with a capacity in excess of 50,000, or Croke Park will sell out.

In 2006 the much smaller Pearse Stadium in Galway did sell out, and Croke Park attracted more than 75,000 for the second Test.

If Leighton Glynn is, as expected, chosen in the final 23, he will face a dilemma as Rathnew, the Wicklow champions, face Meath champions Skryne in a Leinster club first-round match on Saturday, October 24, the day after the Limerick Test.

Bernard Brogan's potential dilemma was avoided, with the decision of the Dublin County Board to bring forward the date of their county final.

As it transpired, St Oliver Plunketts did not even reach the final.

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