Sunday 18 August 2019

Gritty Irish hang against Australia on as goals make the difference

Ireland 56 Australia 52

Eoin Cadogan, Ireland, in action agains Hayden Ballantyne, Australia
Eoin Cadogan, Ireland, in action agains Hayden Ballantyne, Australia
Aidan O’Shea, Ireland, celebrates after scoring Ireland’s first goal
Aidan O'Shea and Luke Hodge clash violently

Dermot Crowe

The finish was not good for the nerves but Ireland clung on, after fading badly since half-time, to regain the Cormac McAnallen trophy in Croke Park last night.

For the buoyancy and future welfare of the game the result, and manner in which it was achieved, will have done no harm. Nor will the healthy attendance of over 38,000. Ireland led by 20 points at half time, dominating the first two quarters, but they were struggling to make an impact for the remainder, living off scraps. A Bernard Brogan behind closed the scoring just before the hooter as Ireland found one final burst of energy.

Having scored three goals in the opening half, and breached the 20-point mark in each of the first two quarters, Ireland's scoring dried up alarmingly as the match progressed. They looked to run out of puff and their play became strewn with errors. They managed just seven points in the third quarter; only six in the last. With more clinical finishing Australia would have won,

Conor McManus, Ireland's top scorer with 17 points, had a goal chance midway through the final quarter, his shot flashing off the crossbar for an over which brought some relief. But concern soon soared when Australia delivered a cross ball which ended with Eddie Betts getting up over Niall Morgan and punching to the net for Australia's only goal with six minutes left. Robbie Gray's over had the increasingly brittle Ireland lead down to three.

Ireland looked doomed but finished in the visitors' half, finding something in the tank, and deserve credit for that. Afterwards, Brogan was declared their man of the match, his 13 points including four overs. But Aidan O'Shea also had a major hand in the victory, being hugely influential, and scoring two goals. In last year's defeat in Perth, Ireland were undone by a poor start. They put that to rights this time, as Joe Kernan had demanded, and led 21-13 after the first quarter, inspired by an early goal by O'Shea, who netted after four minutes.

Australia had chances but some poor finishing cost them. They hit back briefly early in the second quarter, two overs cutting the Ireland lead to four points, before a second goal from O'Shea relieved the pressure and Ireland again began to dominate play. The Mayo man followed up on a Brogan goal effort that was saved and found the net with an excellent left-footed drive.

Brogan stretched his points total with successive overs, the last of those could have been a goal with a player free inside, but they had their third goal when McManus scored a penalty after a foul on Patrick McBrearty.

Australia rarely looked like scoring a goal and sometimes eschewed good openings when electing for the over instead. Morgan almost gifted them a chance nearing half time when he fumbled and Colm Begley saved his blushes.

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In spite of Ireland's strong half-time lead of 20 points, it was expected the Aussies would launch a comeback in the final half, as they have done in the past. By the end of the third quarter they had shaved the Irish lead to down to 11 points, 50-39. Rick Riewoldt, notably, caused Ireland's last line of defence a lot of problems under the dropping ball.

That pattern continued in the final quarter as play deteriorated, Ireland's especially, but with ten minutes left they still held their 11-point lead. Betts' goal shook Ireland and at that point their lead looked decidedly fragile. It made the victory all the more enjoyable and they will return to Australia next year to defend their title.

The match was preceded by a short but moving ceremony to mark the 14 dead of Bloody Sunday 95 years ago, 14 flames alight in their memory on a deserted Hill 16.

Scorers - Ireland: C McManus 17 pts (1 goal-3 overs-2 behinds); A O'Shea 15 (2-1-0); B Brogan 13 pts (0-4-1); D Connolly 4 (0-1-1); L Keegan 3 (0-1-0); D Hughes 3 (0-1-0); P Kerrigan 1 (0-0-1). Australia: E Betts 14 (1-2-2); R Gray 10 pts (0-3-1); R Riewoldt 10 (0-3-1); L Breust 4 (0-1-1); J Roughead 3 (0-1-0); H Ballantyne 3 (0-1-0); L Montagna 3 (0-1-0); D Mundy 3 (0-1-0); J Stringer 1 (0-0-1); T Rockliff 1 (0-0-1).

Ireland: N Morgan; E Doyle, R O'Carroll, P McMahon; L Keegan, E Cadogan, J McCaffrey; G Brennan, M Quinn; M Donnelly, D Connolly, D Walsh; C McManus, A O'Shea, B Brogan. Inter-change players: C Begley, P Harte, D Hughes, C McDonald, P Kerrigan, J O'Loughlin, P Cribbin, P McBrearty,

Australia: H Ballantyne; R Murphy, J Roughlead, S Mitchell, E Wood, H Taylor, B Goddard, R Gray, L Montagna, R Riewoldt, L Hodge (c), D Mundy, E Betts, D Fletcher. Inter-change players: A Gaff, J Stringer G Birchall, D Heppell, L Breust T Rockliff, N Smith.

Referees: J McQuillan (Ire); M Nicholls (Aus)

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