Saturday 17 March 2018

Ireland ready to take the hits

Kevin McKernan is tackled by his Ireland team-mate Eamonn Callaghan as coach Kieran McGeeney looks on at training in Melbourne yesterday
Kevin McKernan is tackled by his Ireland team-mate Eamonn Callaghan as coach Kieran McGeeney looks on at training in Melbourne yesterday
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

MAKING and taking big tackles against physically powerful opposition will play a crucial role in Ireland's attempt to make amends for last year's series defeat when they play Australia in the International Rules Tests in Melbourne and Gold Coast over the next two Fridays.

The tackle has been a problem area for Ireland over many years but considerable work has gone into getting it right this time, according to Meath stalwart Kevin Reilly, one of the squad's anchor men in recent series.

"The tackle that's used in this game is alien to Gaelic footballers. That would be the biggest aspect we have to work on, both in making and taking tackles. You're going to have to live with being tackled and pinned down," said Reilly.


"In previous years, we kind of retaliated a bit because we felt it was unfair. Maybe it was just at the back of our heads that we felt that this shouldn't be happening.

"But we have done a lot with Kieran (McGeeney), both in giving and taking the tackle, so I don't think it will be an issue this year."

Sorting out the tackle is only one aspect of the challenge facing Ireland as they go about constructing a plan to counteract the Australians.

Reilly believes that it's crucial for Ireland to stop the Australians driving forward with high intensity, a policy that yielded rich dividends both in Limerick and Croke Park last October.

"Last year, they came forward in waves and we didn't really deal with that as well as we could have. That will be a big issue this time. Another area we need to improve on is scoring -- if we don't put the points on the board, we're not going to win.

"We'd be given out to in Gaelic football if we kicked as many wides as we did last year, but we seemed to be content with the 'behinds' (awarded when the ball goes wide of the main uprights but inside the outside posts) in this game. We just can't afford to be."

Reilly said that there is a massive sense of determination within the squad to atone for last year's defeats (by seven and three points respectively) and highlighted increased intensity as being a key requirement.

"That will be a massive issue for us on Friday night. We're going to have to match the Australians all the way on that front while also playing to our own strengths."

Ireland were patchy in both games last year and while they ran the Australians close in Croke Park, there could be no denying that the visitors were the more complete outfit.

"We only really played for two quarters last year. That was very disappointing. We'll have to play better for far longer if we're to be in contention for this year's series," said Reilly.

He expects the physical stakes to be higher this time, although obviously nobody can countenance a return to the violence that almost brought about the end of the series back in 2006.

"Last year was very open. Far less tackles went in than in previous years. From a spectator's point of view, they want to see a bit of the physical aspect. Okay, it can't be allowed get out of hand again, but we have to get the balance right.

"There's no harm in it being a physical game, once it's within the rules. Both teams stood off each other a bit last year. We were probably a bit afraid (to get involved) because there was a clampdown after what happened a few years ago."

Meanwhile, Australian coach Rodney Eade said he had no hesitation in removing Colin Sylvia from the squad after the player was in a road accident in the early hours of Sunday morning.

Sylvia was a passenger in a car which was involved in an accident and left the scene. He was later questioned by police but cleared of any wrongdoing.

However, Eade said that once it emerged that Sylvia had been drinking on Saturday night, he had to take stern action.

"From a purely football point of view, it's not ideal to be drinking on the night before you go into camp," said Eade.

Irish Independent

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