Friday 23 March 2018

O'Rourke following the Cluxton template

Jack McCaffrey in action during the Irish squad’s training session at Croke Park
Jack McCaffrey in action during the Irish squad’s training session at Croke Park
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

IRELAND and Australia will today exchange the last of the pleasantries ahead of what the series needs to be a fiery second Test at Croke Park tomorrow.

Thankfully, game two in this has historically thrown up more grit. An increased familiarity with each other and the suddenly real prospect of losing help throw fuel on a fire that, in this case, is down to its last embers.

So, we sift through images from Breffni Park last week, looking for something that hints tomorrow night in Croke Park could yet be a thrilling spectacle.

Perhaps Steven Motlop offers hope. In all the analysis of the first Test, it was lost that if had he found an empty net instead of a narrow cross-bar, the Australians would have pulled themselves back to within three points. As bad as they were at times, they were within an over of pulling level.

Australia have focused on that this week. In video analysis, they observed how Ireland missed their kicks in the third quarter when they were put under greater pressure after a half-time hairdryer from Michael O'Loughlin.

Ireland goalkeeper Paddy O'Rourke backed up that observation when reflecting on how they got to grips with his restarts.

"They got on top in the third quarter," he says.

"Out of our four kick-outs in the third quarter, they won three of them. So, we'll be going back to basics and popping it to space and setting up moves straight away."

O'Rourke was charged with the unenviable task of filling Stephen Cluxton's shoes in this series, but he was quite assured last weekend.

The hybrid game places a bigger emphasis on goalkeepers and requires them to be comfortable in possession. Thus, the Skryne man's outfield experience with club and county make him a good fit.

"There's a lot more emphasis on the goalkeeper in International Rules to be comfortable on the ball and almost be an extra full-back. So, if lads do get in difficulty, they can turn around and pop it to you and you feel comfortable bringing it out.

"If you go on a bit of a run and have to pick out a pass, you have to feel comfortable.


"Cluxton has raised the bar for 'keepers all around the country," says the Meath man.

"You do a lot of work on your own to try and match the kick-outs that he has.

"That's one thing that we've tried to focus on so far in the series – to try and get the kick-outs as accurate as possible, not just booming it down the field, but picking out men, getting on to moves and getting marks straightaway.

"It's probably copying Cluxton a bit alright."

There were suggestions this week that Australia would bring a more physical approach to their play, which is something Ireland have struggled with in the past.

But, unusually, Ireland were at least as big, if not bigger, than their Australian counterparts last Saturday night. And the visitors have since lost the totemic Buddy Franklin.

Aidan Walsh, who hopes to recover from a knee injury in time to play tomorrow, agrees that the spectacle last Saturday let a lot to be desired and should there be a greater intensity to the exchanges, then everyone would be a winner.

"I suppose a small bit more physicality wouldn't go astray. It would make it a bit more exciting for the crowd," says Walsh.

"Looking at the game – I watched it back myself – it was probably hard enough to watch at times, so probably something different has to be brought into it.

"But, no doubt, the Aussies will bring a different game plan the next day and they'll try and rough us up a good bit. But we'll expect it, so we're looking forward to it.

A 22-point deficit means Australia need goals on tomorrow night, but O'Rourke insists that Paul Earley's side are prepared for a lively opening.

"In other years, there might have been a bit of shadow boxing going on in the first couple of minutes, but the Aussies have to come out and throw caution to the wind, go for scores early on and get goals.

"If they do, then it should open things up for us at the other end and if we can break them down high up the field, we will have a chance to get scores of our own."

Irish Independent

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