Irish now faced with real test of character
Australia 2-13-12 (63) Ireland 1-13- 8 (53)
Within minutes of watching contentedly as his side put one hand on the Cormac McAnallen Cup in Adelaide yesterday, Australian coach Chris Scott was already trying to calculate how Ireland would react.
He wasn't the only one. Irish supporters were also wondering what strategic shifts Joe Kernan can bring to the second Test in Perth on Saturday that might provide the means to overturn the 10-point deficit.
"We'll be trying to anticipate what the Irish might do differently. It's a matter of forecasting what they might tweak and trying to react as well," said Scott.
The Irish management are now facing a real test of their ingenuity after a defeat that left them with lots to reflect on.
On the positive side, Ireland won the first and final quarters, the latter by five points, which was quite an achievement in the intense heat.
Trailing by 17 points after conceding a sloppy goal to Luke Shuey midway through the last quarter, it looked as if they were facing a defeat of such proportions as to make the second Test irrelevant, but they dug in defiantly and, by the end, had cut the lead to a far more manageable 10 points.
Most of the negatives can be traced back to the third quarter, which Ireland lost 22-8.
It wasn't the first time in the history of the series that Australia made a significant break in the third quarter, but, as Kernan pointed out afterwards, preparing for an impending storm doesn't guarantee it won't do damage.
"Sometimes you can talk about it and it doesn't happen. I think it was more a lack of composure than anything else. We stopped doing the simple things. We got back to doing them again in the fourth quarter," said Kernan.
"We found space, we hit good passes and we took the chances. There were a lot of times in the third quarter when we got a 'mark' inside the Australian '50' and we didn't take it. We played on instead on at least four occasions and lost the ball," said Kernan.
Decision-making issues can be corrected this week, but it's even more important to figure out how to spread the scoring responsibility more evenly across the attack and midfield.
Conor McManus (24 points) and Michael Murphy (20 points) scored all but nine of Ireland's total, with Paul Geaney (3), Conor Sweeney (3), Niall Sludden (2) and Shane Walsh (1) shooting the rest.
That's six Irish players on the scoresheet, whereas Australia had 14 scorers, led by Nat Fyfe, who hit a goal, three 'overs' and a 'behind' (16 points).
Patrick Dangerfield troubled the Irish defence too, another problem which Kernan must address.
"We weren't putting enough pressure on the ball-carriers out the field. When we did put the pressure on, the passes were a wee bit wayward," said Kernan.
They will head to Perth without Pearce Hanley - whom it's feared broked his hand during the second quarter. This is another setback after what had been a difficult build-up.
Enda Smith and Niall Murphy took no part in yesterday's game, having been weakened by a stomach bug which hit them on Thursday.
It was a real blow as it reduced Ireland's interchange quota to six, when eight would have allowed Kernan to rotate more often in the intense heat. Hanley's departure added to the workload of a largely inexperienced squad.
It raises the question of whether Ireland should have brought a bigger squad, but who could have envisaged losing two players to illness? Besides, the Australians were drawing from a 20-strong panel and coped quite well.
On the positive side, McManus and Murphy used their fieldcraft to good effect; Kevin Feely, Shane Walsh and Aidan O'Shea has good moments in the middle third, while Zac Tuohy and Eoin Cadogan did well in defence.
Overall, though, the Australians were more streamlined.
Even their makeshift goalkeeping arrangements (there's no equivalent in AFL) worked out, with Brendon Goddard making a few fine saves as well as operating in a sweeping role whenever danger threatened.
The big regret for Ireland was that they lost stability after going 10 points ahead in the second quarter.
They were playing a smart game at that stage, but failed to sustain it once the Australians settled into a powerful rhythm.
The big question now is which camp has learned more for the second instalment. Ireland simply have to devise a way to bring more consistent support to McManus and Murphy, a pair who will come in for close attention.
"What works for you one day doesn't always work the next time. Australia will look at it and try to block those areas (around McManus and Murphy), but we'll be looking at them too and finding ways of fixing the things that went wrong," said Kernan.
It's not a lost cause for Ireland, but winning the series from this position would be the best achievement in the 33-year history of the game.
Having said that, a quick start, similar to what Ireland achieved yesterday - they led 6-0 early on - would boost their confidence and put them in a good position to complete the revival.
Scorers - Ireland: C McManus 0-7-3 (24), M Murphy 1-4-2 (20), P Geaney 0-1-0 (3), C Sweeney 0-1-0 (3), N Sludden 0-0-2 (2), S Walsh 0-0-1 (1).
Australia: N Fyfe 1-3-1 (16), C Wingard 0-2-2 (8), L Shuey 1-0-0 (6), S Zorko 0-2-0 (6), B Brown 0-2-0 (6), E Betts 0-1-2 (5), P Ryder 0-1-0 (3), K Simpson 0-1-0 (3), P Dangerfield 0-1-0 (3), Z Merrett 0-0-2(2), R Sloane 0-0-2 (2), T Boak 0-0-1 (1), M Hibberd 0-0-1 (1), J Gunston 0-0-1 (1).
Ireland: N Morgan (Tyrone); K Clarke (Cavan), O Cadogan (Cork), B Harrison (Mayo); C Barrett (Mayo), Z Tuohy (Geelong & Laois), P Crowley (Kerry); K Feely (Kildare), A O'Shea (Mayo); N Sludden (Tyrone), P Hanley (Gold Coast & Mayo), S Walsh (Galway); P Geaney (Kerry), M Murphy (Donegal), C McManus (Monaghan). Interchanges: G Brennan (Clare), N Grimley (Armagh), K O'Connell (Monaghan), S Powter (Cork), P Murphy (Kerry), C Sweeney (Tipperary).
Australia: B Goddard (Essendon); S Burgoyne (Hawthorn), R Tarrant (North Melbourne), S Pendlebury (Collingwood); K Simpson (Carlton), R Laird (Adelaide Crows), L Shuey (West Coast Eagles); P Ryder (Port Adelaide), D Zorko (Brisbane Lions); M Hibberd (Melbourne), P Dangerfield (Geelong Cats), R Sloane (Adelaide Crows); E Betts (Adelaide Crows), N Fyfe (Fremantle), C Wingard (Port Adelaide). Interchanges: T Boak (Port Adelaide), B Brown (North Melbourne), J Gunston (Hawthorn), Z Merrett (Essendon), N Jetta (Melbourne).
Refs - M Deegan (Laois) & M Stevic (Australia)