Thursday 22 August 2019

Ireland need to play game on own terms - not Aussies'

Ten points down after the first game, it will take a record-breaking effort to retain McAnallen Cup

Manager Joe Kernan, Shane Walsh and Killian Clarke lead the rest of the players to the Ireland International Rules Squad training at Langley Park, Perth. Photo: Sportsfile
Manager Joe Kernan, Shane Walsh and Killian Clarke lead the rest of the players to the Ireland International Rules Squad training at Langley Park, Perth. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

International Rules history shows two clear trends, neither of which are particularly encouraging for Ireland as they head into the second Test against Australia in Perth tomorrow (8.45am Irish time).

Only twice in 13 two-Test series have the winners of the first game not emerged as overall winners, and eight points is the biggest first game winning margin to have been overturned a week later.

Having lost by 10 points in Adelaide last Sunday, those stark figures emphasise the extent of the challenge facing Ireland tomorrow.

Despite that, there's a confident air, not to mention a steely intent, in the Irish camp.

"I was never more positive in my life. We can do this," said manager Joe Kernan.

It's a theme which runs through the squad and management after spending the week working through what went wrong in the first game and devising ways of posing more awkward questions for the Australians.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

"We created plenty of chances but didn't take as many as we should have. We know that if we are ruthless and put more of them away the next day, it's our game to win.

"We're ten points behind but that's nothing in this game. A goal and a point in football terms and we're back to a one-point difference," said Shane Walsh.

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He is one of 15 Irish players who are new to the international scene this year.

The lack of experience across the panel showed at times last Sunday but even one game can be highly educational, so a much better performance is expected this time.

Adept

"We need to cut down on the mistakes that damaged us last Sunday, play a game that's familiar to us, move the ball quicker and take more of our chances. That's all in our own hands," said selector Pádraic Joyce.

As one of the best finishers of his generation, he knows the value of goals, an aspect of play where Ireland should be more adept than the Australians.

That wasn't the case last Sunday, when the home side poached two to Ireland's one.

"It shouldn't happen. We'd expect to out-score them in the goal stakes. We'd be looking to get at least two or three on Saturday. We'll need to," said Joyce.

Ireland would have scored a few more goals last Sunday except for the excellence of Brendon Goddard, who was forced into service in what is an unfamiliar role for an AFL player.

He did extremely well, combining excellent shot-stopping with a sweeping role which he timed to perfection.

"We have a plan for him. And for one or two others too. The problem for us with Goddard was that there was too much ball going in over the top to him," said Kernan.

"We need to put them under a lot more pressure all over the pitch.

"When we did that last Sunday, we got the turnovers and were able to impose our game on them.

"We need to do that all the time on Saturday. Go man-to-man - make them work. There were times last Sunday when Australian players were able to stop and look where they were going to put the ball. We've got to stop that."

The paradox of the first Test was that while Ireland wasted several good chances - including goal openings - they could also have been beaten by a bigger margin.

They trailed by 17 points midway through the final quarter before rallying bravely and outscoring the Australians 9-2 on the run-in.

That strong finish has formed the basis for their renewed optimism, although whether it's justified remains to be seen.

Just as Ireland expect to improve, the Australians will believe there's a whole lot more in them too, especially if they can generate enough action close to the Irish goal.

Led by Nat Fyfe (16 points), Chad Wingard (8), Luke Shuey, Ben Brown and Dayne Zorko (6 each), the Aussies had no fewer than 14 scorers, compared to Ireland's six.

Conor McManus (24) and Michael Murphy (20), scored all but nine of Ireland's points. They were a constant threat to the Australians but need more support.

It simply has to be forthcoming tomorrow if Ireland are to win the series by overcoming the biggest first-Test deficit since Australia managed it 11 years ago.

Ireland led 48-40 after the first Test in Galway in 2006 before Australia won 69-31 in Croke Park in a violent encounter where Graham Geraghty was knocked out early on.

It's vital for Ireland to make a good start because otherwise Australia could be out of sight.

"We need to have a go early on. If we were to fall another 10 points down, the game is over so making sure that doesn't happen is a big challenge for us as a group. Everyone knows that," said Kernan.

Ireland have scored an average of 52 points in their last three clashes with Australia, a return which would not be enough to rescue this series.

They need to score more than 60 points and hope that their defence tightens its security.

It's achievable but executing it would require possibly the best performance by an Irish team.

It's a tall order but Kernan insists it is within their capabilities.

"There's an unbelievable sense of determination within the group. You can sense that in everything they do. I have complete faith in them," he said.

Likely outcome? An Irish win but not by enough to take the series on an aggregate score.

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