Stuck in a time warp
IRELAND'S International Rules team has been given a major incentive to beat Australia by comments that they are representing a sport which hasn't advanced tactically over the past 100 years.
Australia coach Rodney Eade probably didn't mean to be disparaging of Gaelic football, but his remarks will, nevertheless, provide additional motivation for the Irish team in the two Test matches over the next two Fridays.
Referring to how the Australian Rules game had made clear tactical advances over the last 30 years, Eade predicted that this would be a significant help in the clashes with Ireland at the Etihad Stadium on Friday night and the Metricon Stadium on the Gold Coast a week later.
"They (Ireland) have had their thoughts for 100 years and they've stayed the same, whereas our game has evolved and our thinking has evolved.
"I think we've got a lot more willingness to try different things. They're very much about sticking to the tried and true, the way it's been played for a long time. We probably try to push out the boundaries at times," said Eade.
The Australian coach pointed to zonal marking systems as an example of where his side could have an advantage, but did concede that it wasn't as easy to implement in the mixed game.
"When you set up zones (in Australian football), it's usually from a stoppage situation where you've got a time lapse to be able to do that, but International Rules is non-stop," he said.
"Even from a point kick-in in the AFL, even if it's quick play-on, there's still a two- or three-second lag, whereas in this game there's none. Maybe the zones start a little deeper, further up the ground."
It will come as a surprise to the Gaelic football world to learn that Australia has detected no tactical advances and, while International Rules isn't exactly an easy environment to showcase fresh thinking, it does afford Irish manager Anthony Tohill and his coaches an opportunity to come up with strategies which will discommode the hosts.
The round ball used to cause all sorts of problems for Australia but they have improved immeasurably in that area.
Indeed, their kicking in the Test matches in Limerick and Croke Park last year was better than Ireland's, which was something of an embarrassment for their rivals, who were the supposed experts in that area.
However, with only four of last year's squad -- Brad Greene, James Frawley (both Melbourne), David Wojcinski (Geelong) and Stephen Milne (St Kilda) -- aboard for the hosts this time, it remains to be seen how refined Australia's kicking skills are in this series.
Several of the Australian squad came together for optional training sessions last week to work on kicking practice.
Eade said they would continue to concentrate on that crucial aspect of the game all week. They had their first full session yesterday, before heading to Torquay for a training camp.
Despite last year's disappointing experience, Ireland will still be hoping to have a considerable advantage when it comes to kicking the ball but, according to Eade, they could have problems in other areas.
"Obviously they (Ireland) have got their issues with parts of this game that aren't in theirs, like tackling and the physicality of it, and obviously with us, playing with a round ball is the biggest adjustment we've got to make.
"Being able to control it and kick it and get it to where we want it to go to, and also the bouncing of it -- it bounces really high when it hits the deck," said Eade.
Any mention of physicality raises fears about whether there is even a possibility that the Australians will return to the violent behaviour which marred the 2005-06 series, leading to its suspension for two years.
The official Australian view is that that there won't be a recurrence, but comments from one of their players, Jake King, raised questions as to the attitude this time.
He cited "Chris Johnston going berserk" as one of the most famous moments in his memory of Ireland- Australia games, an occasion which was seen in a less flattering light in Ireland after the Australian committed some dreadful fouls in the 2005 series.