Monday 19 March 2018

Fast but not physical - the way forward for Kernan's Ireland

International Rules captain Bernard Brogan with manager Joe Kernan in Croke Park
International Rules captain Bernard Brogan with manager Joe Kernan in Croke Park
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

Ever since his first public utterances as Ireland manager, Joe Kernan has made it clear the type of player he is looking for.

At times in the past the Australians have shown up Irish teams for their ability with the round ball but on this occasion, Kernan has placed a high-premium on good kickers.

It's a big part of the reason he's left the door open for Diarmuid Connolly to join the panel. Connolly plays in the Dublin SFC final on Sunday but should they be able to come to some arrangement after that, he'll be brought in.

"Club is number one but they also want to play for their country so I haven't ruled Diarmuid out if you are asking me that question," Kernan said.

"But what happens this weekend, and what him and his club want to do after that, we'll decide this weekend. We are leaving the door open as long as we can and hoping we can finalise the squad.

"A player of Diarmuid's quality would really suit this game because we want to kick the ball and there is no better player in the country at kicking the ball, right or left, than him. And maybe throw in a few scores along with that," Kernan offered.

There's another two weeks to go before the panel will be cut for the November 21 Test against the Aussies in Croke Park.

Kernan was reluctant to get drawn into talking about individuals so far out but Meath's Paddy O'Rourke, Tyrone's Niall Morgan and Monaghan's Rory Beggan are fighting it out for the goalkeeper spot which, given that kick-outs have to go beyond the 45-metre line, is a key position.

Former AFL player and Kerry man Tommy Walsh is expected in this weekend with others like Jack McCaffrey also making themselves available.

However, they have lost some high-profile names too as Michael Murphy, Seán Cavanagh and David Moran all won't be part of this year's squad. There'll be no Australian-based players available either with Pearce Hanley injured and Zach Tuohy's Carlton starting back early this year.

However, Kernan insists players are keen to play in the series. "The players who aren't there at the moment are players who can't be here either with club commitments or injuries. All those players would be here (otherwise).

"From the players' point of view, it's not a novelty. It's to wear an Irish jersey and the honour of wearing an Irish jersey is immense.

"The fact that the game went up and down over the last number of years, you can say (there are) a number of reasons for that.


"One maybe was the team that the Australians sent over. But whenever they send their best team, this goes to a different level."

Once again, Australia send over a team comprised of All-Australian winners. A total of 14 of the 22-man squad played last year in the Perth Test that saw the Aussies run out ten-point winners after a blistering start.

They will visit New York and play a practice match there before completing the trip to Dublin.

"They came out of the traps early last year and really put the pressure on us," said Kernan, who has detailed part of his management team with looking after the interchange, something Ireland have struggled with at times in the past.

"It took us until the third quarter to get back into it but in typical Irish players style, the boys, whether it be heart or guts or whatever, they fought their way back into the game.

"Ten points might have been a bit harsh, they really showed all the qualities you'd expect.

"The fact that the Aussies have named a good squad shows their intent. We have to match that and better it hopefully and that's what we will try to do.

"We're not looking for a physical battle but we want a competitive game with pressure. We're not going to make it easy for people but if we want to go physical then we're not going to win that.

"But nobody can tell me that we can't kick a ball better than Australia and that we have to work on. How we use the ball when we have it is the most important thing to us."

Irish Independent

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