| 16.2°C Dublin

Tomás Ó Sé: Give International Rules a calendar window or give series peaceful death

Close

The Ireland squad Down Under in 2005. Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

The Ireland squad Down Under in 2005. Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

SPORTSFILE

The Ireland squad Down Under in 2005. Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

I'm inclined to wonder is Perth the place Australians take a dead horse to be flogged. Surely, if they were still serious about the International Rules, tomorrow's Test would be in the 'Footy' capital, Melbourne. Taking it to the west coast feels to me a bit like seeking out a quiet burial place.

I played in three Series, travelling Down Under in '05, and know full well how the players love this opportunity to live, virtually, as professionals together.

That's always been the one beauty of International Rules. The relationships forged. That '05 tour came at the height of Kerry's sparky rivalry with Tyrone, but I built great friendships on it with the likes of Brian McGuigan, Ryan McMenamin and 'Muggsy' Mulligan.

The GAA treated us royally and, to be standing on a field in Perth or Melbourne singing the national anthem feels good. I won't deny that.

But, hard as I tried, I just couldn't get the compromise aspect to sit well with me. We play Gaelic football, they play Aussie Rules. Anything in between just feels contrived.

For my first Test experience ('02) in Croke Park, I didn't even know the rules. I remember calling a mark - and the rule is that you cannot take a step forward once you call it. This was news to me. Before I knew it, I was in a heap, looking up at these two big animals squatting over me. And I'm screaming "F**k sake ref, ref!'

Poison

Rightly or wrongly, I suspect it's the rows that have really sustained it. The public loves the physical stuff. For a few years, you could detect a bit of poison creeping in and the Australians were inclined to take liberties. They felt they could get away with anything they wanted, because it wouldn't lead to sanctions in their own game.

Close

Selector Tony Scullion speaks to the Irish players during a training session ahead of their international rules series game against Australia in Perth. Photo: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

Selector Tony Scullion speaks to the Irish players during a training session ahead of their international rules series game against Australia in Perth. Photo: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

SPORTSFILE

Selector Tony Scullion speaks to the Irish players during a training session ahead of their international rules series game against Australia in Perth. Photo: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

So it became a bit like the Wild West, the professionals determined to bully the amateurs.

This led to plenty of mayhem and some laughter. If I have an abiding image of '05, it is of McMenamin squaring up this huge lad right in front of the Irish dug-out. I was sitting on the bench at the time, thinking to myself 'Jayzus Ricey, I'm not sure you've thought this one through!'

The Aussie was towering over him. If McMenamin had swung a punch, he knew he'd have been killed stone dead.

Next thing, bould as anything, he just slaps your man right under the belt-line and sure the big fella goes crumpling down as if he's been shot. T'was time for novenas.

As we were going into the dressing-room at half-time, the Aussies were roaring at McMenamin, telling him they were going to get him. Another fella might have made his excuses, but not Ricey. Out he went again, refusing to back down from anyone or anything.

That was the match in which Chris Johnson went berserk, clothes-lining Philip Jordan. Ridiculous stuff.

And there always seemed an issue of inconsistency between the referees. Our man would be trying to do things by the book. Theirs would be leaving everything go. In a fractious game, that's a recipe for disaster.

That '05 tour, I suppose, left a mark on me. I had no real interest in it after that. It's not as if I'm inclined to back down from physical stuff, but I couldn't see the point of it in a game that was neither theirs nor ours.

Put it this way, I'd have had no problem fighting to the death with Kerry, but I didn't get that feeling with the International Rules. Don't get me wrong. I always tried my best, but something about it always felt a little forced.

I read recently that the top Australian players have no interest whatsoever in a three-week tour. They will put up with it for just one game. In fairness, this should be their time-off and I don't think they've taken it especially seriously for a long time now.

The flip side of that is it's hardly worth Ireland's time to go out there for just a single game.

I think there's been ambivalence on both sides. If the GAA was truly serious about International Rules, they'd ring-fence a window in the calendar for it. But, instead, you have farcical situations like that faced by Michael Murphy a few years ago, where he had to choose - theoretically - between club and country.

Why should a player suffer because his club is doing well?

Bottom line, if a club is in an intermediate final at home, that will take precedent over playing for Ireland.

If An Ghaeltacht had been playing in a West Kerry final and I was due in Australia, there's no way I could have travelled. In other words, in the real world, International Rules comes second to club championship, even junior club championship.

And, 30 years into the concept, that's saying something.

Kieran Donaghy would have been an ideal man for this series but, because of Austin Stacks' progress in Munster, he was a non-runner. I doubt he's heartbroken, though. Kieran has been out there before and I'd imagine his attitude now is simply 'Been there, done that!'

To me, the series was at its best around the time Colm O'Rourke was in charge, You had the likes of Seamus Moynihan, Darren Fay, Padraic Joyce and Michael Donnellan playing for Ireland. Nathan Buckley for Australia. That was really the best against the best. Now? I'm not so sure.

Joke

Last year was a complete joke with the Australians picking an indigenous team that was completely out of its depth.

From my experience, the best 'Footy' players look down their noses at us. The only Australians I really remember mixing with us in my time were the two Stynes brothers. That said, I know the craic can be mighty and it would be a pity for our players to lose that.

I roomed with Graham Canty in '05. Got on like a house on fire. But we were in a nightclub the night of the second Test and I met this guy from home. He was a little under the weather, stuck for a bed. What do you do? I gave him my room-key and, music blaring, told him the number and all that business of needing the card to make the elevator work.

Watching him waddle away, I remember thinking 'There's not a hope in hell he'll find the hotel, let alone the room.'

Anyway, t'was daylight when Canty and myself got back and there he was. In Canty's bed.

"Who in the name of God is that?" says Graham.

"Lord God, I haven't a notion!" says I, keeping a straight face as Canty wheeled away to bunk in with Anthony Lynch.

The craic was mighty, you see, t'was just the football that left you wondering.

I'll get up to watch it tomorrow, no question. But my pulse won't be racing.

 

Declan was special

Just a parting word on my good friend Declan O'Sullivan, who retired this week.

My first memory of Declan is of himself and Michael Meehan bossing a colleges game in Limerick that was on as a curtain-raiser to a National League final. It was Colaiste na Sceilge against St Jarlaths and, my God, you could see it straight away.

The man was special. Rarely does a guy spoken of as a prodigy at a very young age follow it through, but Declan did that. He just had it all: great mental toughness, bravery, unbelievable natural ability; and he was a leader in the dressing-room.

I would say simply that Declan O'Sullivan was one of the truly, truly great Kerry players. And, in my eyes, that constitutes greatness.

A real quiet gentleman off the field too. I wish him well.

Irish Independent