Tuesday 21 November 2017

'Fitter' Aussies planning to get physical with Irish tourists

Galway sharpshooter Shane Walsh touches down in Melbourne complete with all his baggage and travel pillow. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Galway sharpshooter Shane Walsh touches down in Melbourne complete with all his baggage and travel pillow. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

The Australians have raised the temperature for the upcoming International Rules series by predicting that their professional status gives them a significant advantage.

Chad Wingard, who is expected to be a key figure in Adelaide next Sunday and in Perth on Saturday week, claims that the Australians are fitter and stronger than the Irish players, while AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan also mentioned physicality as a potential area of gain.

"We're professional athletes - they're amateurs.

"This is our job full-time so we've been hitting the gym. We're obviously a lot fitter than they are," said Wingard.

In a clear statement of intent, he indicated that Australia planned to use power to wear Ireland down.

"If it's physicality, we've got a few big boys to try and push them around. Whatever advantage we get, and what we think we have, we're going to use," said the Port Adelaide midfielder.

His assessment that Australian players are "a lot fitter" will certainly add motivation for Ireland as they attempt to retain the Cormac McAnallen Cup.

McLachlan said that Australia would play "the right style of football" and insisted it would be within the rules, promising "significant consequence if players crossed the line and resorted to illegal tactics".

However, like Wingard, he believes that Australia will have an advantage in the physical stakes.

"It's not like the Irish are shrinking violets but there's a physical advantage there and I think we have it.

"We have to be very legal and very fair about it. We need to be sure to exploit that to try and win the game. We've got a team that's here to play proper football," said McLachan.

Recent games between the countries have been played without major incident unlike previous times when physicality levels zoomed into the dangerous zone.

Indeed, it looked after a particularly ugly encounter in Croke Park in 2006 that the link-up, which began in 1984, was doomed.

However, it resumed in 2008 on a different footing and has been largely trouble-free since.

Tackling

Irish manager Joe Kernan has picked a squad with lots of pace and will be hoping they can use it to counteract Australia's strengths, especially their tackling skills.

It worked when Ireland beat Australia in Croke Park in 2015 but that was a one-off game, unlike this year which sees a return to the two-match series for the first time since 2013.

The Irish team arrived in Melbourne last night minus captain Aidan O'Shea and Cavan's Killian Clarke, who were delayed for personal reasons. They will fly in today.

The squad will remain in Melbourne until Thursday, when they fly to Adelaide for the first International Rules game in the city since 2001.

With no Dublin players aboard, questions will arise as to the overall strength of the squad but Kernan is confident that he and his selectors - Pádraic Joyce, Darragh Ó Sé and Dermot Earley - have assembled a balanced panel whose talents are well suited to the mixed game.

The hosts are drawing from a star-studded squad, having insisted that only players chosen on at least one all-Australian team (the equivalent of the GAA All-Stars) were eligible.

The return to the two-game series makes for a much fairer and more interesting engagement after one-match showdowns in Perth in 2014 and Croke Park a year later.

The fact that Australia have mentioned fitness and physicality as possible areas of advantage shows how they intend to approach the series.

It makes the first game especially important for Ireland as history shows that the travelling team tend to improve in the second contest.

Given that trend, it's crucial that Ireland either win or come close on Sunday.

Playing with the round ball is always one of the biggest challenges facing the Australians but Wingard believes that they can master it.

"It's all about figuring out which way you want to bend it.

"You can bend it to your left or right. I like to bend it to the right - you have a bit more control with it," he said.

Wingard played for Australia when they beat Ireland three years ago but missed the 2015 game due to a shoulder injury.

 

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