Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Joe Kernan: International Rules allow us all to answer Ireland’s call

Down's Martin Clarke

Those who pine for what are referred to as the good old days in gaelic football would, I assume, even be prepared to accept a ‘warts and all’ return to the scenario that prevailed in bygone years.

Only this week I have observed reference made to the so-called ‘traditionalists’ in more than one media outlet.

It seems that whenever modifications are made to the playing rules or amendments are implemented in relation to actual match regulations this inevitably triggers reminiscing and nostalgia.

Nothing wrong with that of course except that in many cases it is employed to camouflage a reluctance to embrace change, particularly changes that are significant.

Thus it was when the International Rules series was launched several years ago — it initially traded under the banner of Compromise Rules — there was an outcry.

Gaelic football, it was claimed, was being sacrificed on the altar of international expediency and the upshot was a hybrid game that had no appeal.

Now with the passage of time the International Rules, despite its unsavoury flirtation with violence, remains for the moment as part of the fixtures calendar.

I for one am delighted to see the series revived if for no other reason than the donning of an Irish jersey brings together in a common bond players who over the course of the championship season can find themselves mortal enemies.

Whatever about the merits of the old days — limited match preparations, massive crowds, catch and kick tactics — it is an acknowledged fact that inter-county championship matches are now played out against a backdrop of intensity, passion and media interest that have brought a whole new dimension to the summer months.

To say that rivalry is keen is to delve into the realms of under-statement. Yet, unlike in former years when the insidious ‘one in, all in’ mantra was rather prevalent, matches are by and large contested within the framework of rules that, while under continual scrutiny, still provide the canvas against which the action takes place.

And now at the end of a championship that brought a gloriously belated Sam Maguire Cup triumph for Cork, a much yearned-for renaissance by Down, five All Star awards for Ulster and an All-Ireland Minor title coup for Tyrone (again!) the International Rules series offers the opportunity for players who were in opposite corners a short time ago to bond together for the good of their country.

That’s why Cork skipper Graham Canty and Down playmaker Martin Clarke, opponents in Croke Park last month when the stakes were at their highest, will share the same dressing-room in Limerick on Saturday night.

There is no doubt that the GAA is a huge sporting organisation — but it can often be rather parochial by nature.

But between now and the end of the month there is the perfect opportunity for officials, players and fans from every county in Ireland to take an international stand.

Victory would be no more than manager Anthony Tohill and his diligent backroom team deserve and would see Ireland retaining the coveted Cormac McAnallen trophy at Croke Park on Saturday week in what I predict will be a highly captivating spectacle.

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