Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 28 August 2014

Aussies defiant as International Rules future hangs in balance

Friendly welcome: Australia's Matthew Stokes has enjoyed his trip to Ireland – off the pitch at least

A decision on the future of the International Rules is expected to be announced within the next 24 hours.

And despite the relative apathy which has accompanied the present series to date in this country, it emerged yesterday that the Australian Football League is more committed to the concept than had been thought.

When the Aussies decided to send an indigenous side to face Ireland, this was interpreted as a dilution of their enthusiasm for a concept that has had more than its share of detractors since its inception.

At a press conference in Dublin yesterday, the tourists' manager Mick O'Loughlin was adamant that his team was "strongly focused" on winning the second Test at Croke Park on Saturday even though they are confronted by a 57-35 deficit from the first Test.

And along with his players he has been quick to play down allegations of high jinks on the part of some of the players at a hotel in Ennis following that game.

This, too, had served to cement the belief that the Australians were less than committed until yesterday's forceful declaration that they still feel they can win the series.

Australian skipper Daniel Wells and a number of experienced players including Matthew Stokes and Adam Goodes have joined in firing out a message of defiance in advance of Saturday's game.

"The incident at the hotel after the first Test was a bit of noise late at night. We can't shy away from the fact that it happened and we take responsibility for it. But now we are focused on winning on Saturday," said Stokes.

But while Australia clearly hope to give a better account of themselves this time round, GAA officials have expressed anxiety about the possible attendance at Headquarters.

With Ireland looking almost certain to win the series, the match has lost much of its allure and this will surely have figured in discussions which AFL chiefs and the GAA hierarchy have held since Tuesday night.

Many within the GAA feel that the link between the two sporting bodies should be severed and tomorrow's announcement will be awaited with considerable interest.

Yet while Australia have found the going tough on the pitch, they have been overwhelmed by the warmth of the welcome they have received.

"I've been amazed by how beautiful this country is and how friendly the people are," said Stokes.

"To be honest I was pretty worried how we would be received over here, but everyone has been so friendly. The taxi drivers are always giving us words of advice to stay out of trouble but the people have been nothing but friendly and welcoming.

"I've been blown away by the support that we've got walking on the streets and going into restaurants. We're very grateful for the hospitality the Irish have shown us."

Meanwhile, Ciaran McKeever hopes to get the chance to gain compensation for the defeat of his club St Patrick's by Crossmaglen Rangers in last Sunday's Armagh football championship final by getting some game time against the Aussies on Saturday.

McKeever and Kildare's Johnny Doyle have been drafted into the squad by manager Paul Earley and the Armagh captain, one of a number of Ulster players who have distinguished themselves in the Ireland jersey in recent years, is anxious to play a part in helping his country to clinch the series.

"This is a good opportunity for me to get back in action after that Armagh final defeat and hopefully we will clinch the series just as we did in 2011 in Australia," said McKeever.

On that occasion, he was vice-captain and found himself in the front line of media interviews when skipper Stephen Cluxton remained out of the public eye in this context.

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