Saturday 7 December 2019

Crowds crucial for happy 30th birthday

Dr Kevin Moran (left) celebrates with Ireland players Neil McGee, Michael Murphy and Paddy McBrearty after their International Rules win over Australia last October. Picture credit: Oliver McVeigh / SPORTSFILE
Dr Kevin Moran (left) celebrates with Ireland players Neil McGee, Michael Murphy and Paddy McBrearty after their International Rules win over Australia last October. Picture credit: Oliver McVeigh / SPORTSFILE
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

The International Rules Series will celebrate its 30th birthday in November but whether it survives beyond that depends essentially on the people in Perth.

The hybrid game has been in more last-chance saloons than a Wild West outlaw with a bounty on his head but always managed to escape – but this time the threat to its survival is very real.

Of course, threats can bring opportunities too and both the GAA and AFL will be hoping that the one-game model works.

The criteria for future success will come under two headings: attendance and competitiveness.

The latter has been absent from the last two series because the AFL didn't engage in the way they used to. They fielded a below-strength squad in 2011 and took a tanking in Melbourne and the Gold Coast, where only 12,500 turned out for the second Test.

It raised fresh doubts about the future of the series, ones which were enhanced when the Australians pulled the daft stunt of sending a wholly indigenous squad to Ireland last year. They lost by an aggregate of 101 points.

The Australians' response has been a commitment to field a team of top stars (the equivalent of the GAA's All Stars) for a one-off game in Perth next November. Sending a team all the way to Australia for one competitive game might seem like a waste of time and money but actually neither is an issue.

Most footballers will have completed their local season by late November and would love to get a chance to travel Down Under while the costs are borne from the proceeds of previous series. In effect, it's cost-neutral for the GAA.

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Still, it can only work if the Australians keep their promise and field the strongest possible team while marketing the game as vigorously as they used to prior to the last series.

Bums on seats and a genuinely competitive game is the minimum required if the series isn't to die shortly after its 30th birthday.

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