Monday 26 August 2019

'This is as good an Australian side that has stepped on Irish soil'

Tadhg Kennelly says this is as good an Australian side that has stepped on Irish soil
Tadhg Kennelly says this is as good an Australian side that has stepped on Irish soil
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

If the Australians have been lukewarm to the International Rules series in the past, they are keen to leave no doubt that they are in for the long haul now.

AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan underlined that this 22-man squad is, bar four players who are ruled out through injury, the best of the best who cover around 16km in a game.

Their squad contains six club captains and roughly AUS$12-15m (€8-10m) worth of player payments. McLachlan also pointed out that a string of All-Australians, who had their hand up for selection, had been left behind.

If that didn't outline the task facing Joe Kernan's Ireland, Tadhg Kennelly, who is part of the Australian backroom team, put it succinctly: "This is the dream team, this is as good an Australian side that has stepped on Irish soil."

The AFL have worked hard to assemble this squad. They have given clubs assurances that their players will be returned to them in peak condition.

That necessity informed the decision to cancel the challenge game that had been pencilled in for New York last week due to concerns over the suitability of the pitch.

The New York leg of the journey added to the appeal for players, as did the offer to bring their families along, with one estimate putting the Australian touring party at more than 80.

And while the GAA have often stated that they may have to reconsider should the series start costing more than it brings in, McLachlan is willing to invest in the concept.

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"It is cost neutral for us over a two-year cycle but I'm prepared to invest in this beyond that - that is not a threshold issue for us … I would advocate to our commission and board that even if it wasn't cost neutral, to invest in something like that because I think it shows ambition and aspiration that we want in our game," said McLachlan, who will explore the possibility of a Test in New York when the pair meet tomorrow.

Kennelly has been keeping an eye on things on this side of the water and believes the 2015 football championship highlighted the need for change.

"The championship needs to change and obviously that discussion has been happening for five or six years now. It needs to change.

"They say the stronger get stronger but the weaker get stronger too if it is more appealing to play for your county and you know you're going to get five or six championship games a year.

"If you're stuck in a weaker county at the moment you lose two games and you're gone. You want to make it more appealing as a game too because in Gaelic football this year there were probably two or three games that were appealing.

"You're competing with the Premier League and the Rugby World Cup in terms of marketing and it's getting taken away from us. If you don't make it more appealing for the people watching they're going to go to the other side."

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