Saturday 24 August 2019

Stomach bug derails Ireland's Rules preparations

Kildare midfielder Kevin Feely. Photo: Sportsfile
Kildare midfielder Kevin Feely. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

The Irish International Rules team face an anxious build-up to Sunday's first Test against Australia in Adelaide after three players went down with a stomach bug.

Enda Smith (Roscommon), Niall Murphy (Sligo) and Pearce Hanley (Gold Coast and Mayo) have been affected and while it's expected they will have recovered in time for the game (5.10am, Sunday), it remains to be seen what impact the setback has on them.

Obviously, there are also concerns that other players will be hit so every precaution is being taken at the team hotel to reduce the risk of the bug spreading.

Provided they are fit, all 23 players will feature in a game where interchanging is allowed to a maximum of 15 per quarter.

The Australians are working off a 21-strong panel but Joe Kernan is planning to use the full quota.

With temperatures expected to reach around 33 degrees, it's vital for Ireland to give players as much rest time as possible in a carefully-calibrated interchange routine.

However, that could be disrupted as Hanley, Smith and Murphy may not be on full power - provided of course, they can play at all.

The Irish team will train this morning when a clearer picture of the situation will emerge.

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On the field, Kildare midfielder Kevin Feely franked his reputation as a midfielder of outstanding quality with an excellent performance against Dublin in the Leinster final this year and he is now facing an even bigger challenge against the elite of the AFL.

Australia's jumpers will target their own and Ireland's kick-outs as a source of ball-winning, making it crucial for Ireland's big men to counteract them.

Feely will be a key figure in not only counteracting the Australians but also in making enough catches to provide Ireland with consistent forward momentum.

Ireland's middle-third players will also need to be very accurate with their deliveries to give the attackers a chance to escape from Australia's tough defenders.

"The standard of kick-passing you have to reach in this game is far beyond what you get in Gaelic football," Feely said.

"If your pass is off or if the ball bounces where it's not meant to bounce, the receiver ends up under serious pressure."

Being chosen for International Rules duty is the latest string to the Athy man's impressive sporting bow, having also spent three years on the English soccer circuit.

He played with Charlton Athletic, Carlisle United, AFC Wimbledon and Newport County between 2012 and 2015 before deciding that his future lay in Gaelic football.

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