Wednesday 21 March 2018

'There is more improvement in us than Australia' - McManus in upbeat mood

Nat Fyfe of Australia and Aidan O Shea tussle during the opening Test in Adelaide Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Nat Fyfe of Australia and Aidan O Shea tussle during the opening Test in Adelaide Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Conor McManus was in 'glass-half-full' mode as the Irish team flew from Adelaide to Perth early this morning, despite Ireland allowing Australia to build a commanding lead in the race for International Rules supremacy.

Presumably his colleagues are similarly optimistic. Ireland will face a 10-point deficit in the second Test on Saturday and while it's not insurmountable, a lot will have to go right if the Cormac McAnallen Cup is to return to Ireland.

"If we get three 'overs', we're right back in the mix. It's game on, we can improve. I think there is more improvement in us than there is in Australia," said McManus.

Chris Scott and his Aussie squad might dispute that on the basis that they only came together for the first time last week, yet still managed to put together a very coherent performance.

Ireland could argue that while they had put in more work than Australia over recent weeks, much of it was undone by unhelpful interventions last week over which they had no control.

"It was a tough week in our camp. We had up to seven, eight, nine boys struggling with illnesses, viruses and vomiting bugs. It took the panel down to 21 and when Pearce (Hanley) injured his hand we were down to 20 for most of the game," said McManus.

"It made it very hard. The heat wasn't unbearable, but having played in it will stand to us. We've got through that part, but we have a lot of improving to do.

"Basic skills of our game have let us down and if we can get a wee bit tighter at the back, it's game on. We're still in this."

His immediate analysis of the reason Australia won centred on what happened after Ireland went 10 points ahead in the second quarter.

"We sat back and invited them on to us. They kicked the ball to their 'mark' (target) quite easily. It's difficult to compete with the size of some of those boys, but I definitely think we have more to improve on," said McManus.

His comments on the number of players who weren't quite right is interesting, since we were told that only three were suffering from the stomach bug.

Two of them - Enda Smith and Niall Murphy - weren't sufficiently recovered to play, but they will be fit for next Saturday.

One disappointing aspect from an Irish perspective was the 2-1 goal return in favour of the Australians.

Goalscoring should come much more naturally to Gaelic footballers, but they created few enough chances and scored only one, when Michael Murphy finished off an excellent move early in the second quarter.

It looked as if might be the start of a major flourish by Ireland, but instead it jolted the Australians into raising their game.

Goalkeeper Brendon Goddard made a few good saves, while a chipped effort from McManus dropped on the wrong side of the post - tight margins which might have made all the difference.

"Some days they go in, but unfortunately not today. And then right at the end Shane Walsh had a shot for goal. I've seen him put those in the top corner of the net. That would have been a nice way to finish - cutting the lead to five points," said manager Joe Kernan.

Walsh's shot flew wide of the post, picking up only a point.

Frankly, Ireland would have been flattered by anything less than a 10-point losing margin. For while they missed some good chances, so did the Australians.

In fairness to the home side, they had the excuse that they were playing with the unfamiliar round ball, although it must be said they handled and kicked it quite well.

Nat Fyfe was especially effective, ending the day as their top scorer (1-3-1) and also playing his colleagues into the action on several occasions.

Fyfe's fielding talents are difficult to counteract, but Ireland can have less excuse for failing to close down space in their own half.

There were times when the Australians had plenty of time to check their options, which should never happen in this game.

That may have been down to so many of the Irish players experiencing International Rules for the first time.

It was hardly a coincidence that McManus and Murphy, two of the best performers of recent years, were again Ireland's top men, so Kernan will be hoping that yesterday's game will bring many of the newcomers to a different level.

"The Subiaco will be full next week, with probably 15,000 to 20,000 Irish people around, so there will be more noise from our side of things. We're going to have to rise to it now. It's a 10-point deficit but we can turn it around," said McManus.

Scott wouldn't agree.

"We're blessed with the squad we were able to put together," said the Australian manager.

A huge test awaits Ireland.

Irish Independent

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