Friday 23 March 2018

Eugene McGee: Humiliated irish fail on every level

During the past week, we heard members of the Ireland International Rules panel describe the great honour it was for them to be representing their country.

But what many of these players do not seem to realise is that such an undoubted honour also brings with it responsibility -- to justify that honour by proving they are better than all those who failed to get picked.

Well, on the basis of what we saw in Limerick on Saturday night, very few of the players carried out their part of the bargain. Quite simply, most of the inter-county household names, as well as the many lesser-known players on the team sheet, failed miserably at their task and were actually an embarrassment to the GAA and its followers.

The sheer ineptitude of the Ireland players in the basic skill of kicking the ball over the crossbar from comfortable distances and angles was appalling and certainly shocked people in the audience in Limerick as well as the television viewers.

Personally, I was not all that shocked as I am sick and tired writing here that the standard of kicking points from play in Gaelic football is diabolical, apart from a handful of notable exceptions.

We see it all through the summer months in championship games as many so-called forwards simply opt out of shooting altogether and handpass until some other unwilling recipient has no option but to attempt a score -- and usually makes a mess of it.

At least in Gaelic football there are often excuses for this, such as close man-to-man marking by opponents making shooting more difficult, but the Australians were not into such close marking so therefore there should have been above-average point-shooting from the Ireland players rather than the dreadful attempts at kicking the three-point 'overs'.

The fact that Australia outscored Ireland in three-pointers by about four to one from play illustrates this point perfectly.

Included in these dismal scoring attempts by Ireland players were several kicks falling short to the Australian goalkeeper, a whole series of one-pointers -- which in GAA terms are wides -- plus another shoal of real wides outside the far posts.

While this pathetic kicking standard was the most dominant factor in Ireland's failure, it was not the only one by any means.

Right from the start, Ireland played second fiddle to their opponents in all aspects of the contest -- particularly in their control of the play all over the field. Gone was the reckless kicking of former years from the Aussies and instead we saw methodical -- maybe too much so -- game tactics aimed at retaining possession and allowing the visitors time to settle into this strange sporting environment far from home.

They used this breathing space to good effect, which was proven by their leads at the end of all four quarters by three, five, 10 and finally seven points at the end of the game.

Ireland's players also seemed to be methodical but in a negative sense. How often did we see players like Stephen Cluxton and Graham Canty dawdle while taking free kicks as they looked around waiting for a colleague to move for the pass?

By contrast, Australia players had the ball passed away to a colleague in the blink of an eye, which in turn meant that the Ireland player who lost his man for the pass was also thinking far too slowly. And we hear all the gobbledegook in recent years about how mentally sharp our footballers are nowadays compared to 'the old days'! Sure.

The failure of the really big stars of Gaelic football to come good was undoubtedly the biggest disappointment for the 34,000-odd fans on a cold Limerick night.

One of the biggest attractions of this hybrid game has always been watching the leading players perform on the same team as opposed to being always in opposition at county level.

This time it was very disappointing to see people like Sean Cavanagh, Steven McDonnell, Marty Clarke, Daniel Goulding, Tommy Walsh and others look quite ordinary, which meant that the personal inspiration required for Ireland to break out of the mediocrity in this game was rarely visible.

We saw how effective this flair could be when Ireland, inspired by a great goal from Bernard Brogan five minutes from the end, lifted the crowd and saved next week's game from disaster.

But even then mediocrity prevailed because three three-point chances in quick succession only yielded two points instead of a possible nine which, had they been converted, would have given Ireland a most undeserving draw.

Mick Malthouse, the Australian manager, is obviously a smart guy and steering Collingwood to the AFL national title a couple of weeks ago proved that, but certainly this is, so far at least, the most cleverly organised set of Australian players we have seen.

Next week obviously will be the ultimate test of that and with a near full Croke Park likely we could still have a titanic battle despite the apparent control of Australia in nearly all the battles on Saturday last.

We can only assume that Anthony Tohill and his management team will learn a lot, and fast, otherwise this could be another embarrassment.

Ireland need to score three or four goals, six-pointers, and that is certainly possible but only if the attitude of the leading players is correct and is borne out in their performances. Placing the best scorers close to the Aussie goals would also help greatly.

But there is an ominous feeling that the more pure football that is played in these games, such as on Saturday last, the better will Australia play.

When there were lots of rows and scrimmages at least the Irish players got their adrenaline flowing -- not so last Saturday I'm afraid.

Perhaps there is a lesson there for the Ireland players for the next game.

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