Belfast Telegraph

End Ireland's loveless International Rules union with Australia

By Declan Bogue

Observing the top brass of the GAA desperately trying to make things work between themselves and Australia is a painful sight.

From what this writer knows of many GAA representatives, they are honourable, trustworthy types, who carry out their roles with the zeal and integrity of the volunteer. Yet, there seems to be a blind spot over the International Rules.

Could it simply be that when it comes down to it, some high level GAA operators enjoy the occasional trip to Australia for a month, in the company of some of the finest Gaelic footballers? Forgive us for being facetious, but it would rather appear so. If not, then we have yet to hear a watertight argument against this view.

If the aim really is to develop an international dimension for Gaelic football, well then at some point the sport of Gaelic football would be showcased. And there are no exhibitions of Gaelic football when an Irish team goes away to Australia.

Australian Rules and Gaelic are two of the world's great games. They have clear distinctions, but too much differs them from ever becoming mutually-beneficial.

The GAA needs to ask itself if it needs the weeks of negative headlines concerning club fixtures, county finals and provincial championship matches that clash with a manufactured sport? Are they not sick of players tweeting and blasting and savaging county board volunteers, no matter the rights and wrongs around the issues?

And sure, some players are going to say it's a great honour and one of their proudest moments. But while writing this I asked 13 former international players from Ulster by text if they had been to either test.

Three had, with two working for the media. It must be said that one of them, one of the bravest performers we ever saw at the sport when it was relevant, said they would have 'absolutely' went to them.

Another said he was at one, had a county final the day after the first test and spotted several county players at it.

Of the others that hadn't went, some responses were illuminating:

- Watched ten minutes of it over two games. Waste of time.

- Wudn't go to the back door to watch it...has nothing to offer the GAA public.

- Better craic watching it in the pub.

- Watched about five mins on TV and got bored.

And all the while, the Australians have treated it with a contempt this year that surely marks the lowest point of the relationship. They act like they are trapped in a loveless marriage and have stopped caring. The evidence was made by bringing merely 21 players and losing one for the second test. The humiliating defeat in Cavan was celebrated by a few days of drinking.

And all the while, AFL chiefs strengthen ties in Papua New Guinea, New Zealand and the Fijian Islands, fertile recruiting grounds for scouts who have grown weary of the homesickness and lack of staying power of Irish rookies.

Sooner or later you have to end a broken relationship in order to preserve your dignity. If the GAA want to string this business out for another year to play the part of an international sporting body then good luck to them.

But when former internationals don't even watch anymore, then don't expect the rest of us to care.

Belfast Telegraph

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