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Classy Ireland jumping for joy after International Rules victory

Ireland 3-11-5 (56) - Australia 1-13-7 (52)

By Declan Bogue

Published 23/11/2015

On a high: Ireland’s Aidan O’Shea celebrates hitting the target at Croke Park
On a high: Ireland’s Aidan O’Shea celebrates hitting the target at Croke Park

The International Rules series has a pulse after this often frustrating game threw up enough in the way of entertainment, scores and skills to produce a passable, pleasant evening in Croke Park. In fact, we are left slightly miffed that there will not be a second Test.

Ireland regained the Cormac McAnallen Cup that they last held when they walloped a touring team made up of only Aboriginal players in 2013. They took their tally of Test wins to 21, four ahead of Australia, and also took the lead of overall Tests won, with 10 to Australia's nine.

Just as important, the experiment has credibility again after a few wobbly years when the mass appeal was almost lost when the ultra-violence of previous years was canned.

What they have stumbled upon now is an odd mixture, but one that highlights the skills of the individual games.

Something that has been continually levelled at the Irish has been how the Australian players have often outshone them in pure kicking ability, a bone of contention given that they play with a different kind of ball.

Ireland's supremacy in kicking was greeted warmly by manager Joe Kernan, who completed a unique set of honours in leading his club Crossmaglen Rangers, his county Armagh, his province Ulster and now his country to their greatest achievements.

"We worked at that from day one. I think that's one thing we said we would do, we wanted to kick the ball. We wanted to push up, to put pressure up the field," he said.

The evening had added poignancy with Director-General Paraic Duffy and GAA President Aoghan O'Fearghail laying a wreath at the spot where Tipperary footballer Michael Hogan was shot by Auxiliary forces during a match 95 years ago to the day.

Ireland started like they were inspired by the emotion. After four minutes they had the first goal when Diarmuid Connolly put Conor McManus in. He played it across the face of goal to captain Bernard Brogan and while it was knocked out by 40-year-old retired AFL player Dustin Fletcher, Aidan O'Shea was on hand to follow up.

With an inside line of Brogan, O'Shea and McManus, the Australian tactic of pushing their defence up almost as far as midfield was a novel one for Gaelic football fans and had a few deliveries found their man with greater pace, there might have been a feast of goals.

In the meantime, the Irish attack had enough to do as O'Shea, Connolly, McManus and Brogan all racked up overs in the first quarter to leave the scoreline Ireland 21, Australia 13.

There were notable contributions from Mattie Donnelly and Paul Kerrigan, who kept forcing turnovers. Michael Quinn was making himself busy, while at the back, Dublin full-back Rory O'Carroll was having a fantastic individual battle with Australia's Nick Riewoldt.

Ireland went into the interval a full 20 points ahead, aided by two further goals. For the first, O'Shea forced a turnover and set up Brogan, only for the latter to be blocked and the former to convert another loose ball.

Later, a floating hand-pass by Brogan to Paddy McBrearty had the Donegal man getting some hangtime as he palmed to the net. However, Australia captain Luke Hodge bundled him into the goalpost, leading to McBrearty's withdrawal and transferral to hospital as a precautionary measure.

For whatever reason, his goal was scratched from the record and Australian referee Mathew Nicholls instead ordered a penalty, which McManus rolled past Fletcher.

The Australian comeback came in the third quarter.

Ireland could only manage two overs and a behind, while the Aussies nibbled into the gap with two extra overs.

Reiwoldt was taking marks but his shooting let him down on one occasion in front of the posts. Eddie Betts was buzzing around with purpose but passed up a glorious opportunity of a goal to spare goalkeeper Niall Morgan's blushes.

With the gap narrowed to 50-39 by the end of the third quarter, selector Darragh ÓSé took Morgan to one side on the pitch with O'Shea to correct their kickouts.

The fourth quarter was one of maturity. Australia managed to outscore Ireland 13-6 during the period, their goal arriving with six minutes left on the clock through Betts.

But instead of crumbling, Ireland closed out the game.

IRELAND: N Morgan; E Doyle, R O'Carroll, P McMahon; L Keegan (1 over = 3pts), E Cadogan, J McCaffrey; M Quinn, G Brennan; M Donnelly, D Connolly (1 over, 1 behind = 4pts), D Walsh; C McManus (3 overs, 1 penalty goal, 2 behinds = 17pts), A O'Shea (2 goals, 1 over = 15pts), B Brogan (4 overs, 1 behind = 13pts)

Interchange: P Harte, D Hughes (1 over = 3pts), P Kerrigan (1 behind = 1pt) C McDonald, J O'Loughlin, P Cribbin, P McBrearty

AUSTRALIA: D Fletcher; H Ballantyne (1 over = 3pts), E Betts (1 goal, 2 overs, 2 behinds = 14pts) , G Birchall, L Breust (1 over, 1 behind = 4pts, P Dangerfield, A Gaff, B Goddard, R Gray (3 overs, 1 behind = 10pts), D Heppell, L Hodge, S Mitchell, L Montagna (1 over = 3pts), D Mundy (1 over = 3pts), R Murphy, N Riewoldt (3 overs, 1 behind = 10pts), T Rockliff (1 behind = 1pt), J Roughead (1 over = 3pts), N Smith, J Stringer, H Taylor, E Wood

Refs: Joe McQuillan (Ireland) and Mathew Nicholls (Australia) Attendance: 38,386.

Belfast Telegraph

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