Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 21 October 2014

Down's Benny Coulter fears for GAA's International Rules series unless Australia send stronger teams

Poor fare: Benny Coulter and Ireland had two easy wins

Down's Benny Coulter has warned that the future of the International Rules series is in terminal danger of being scrapped unless AFL representatives begin to take their role in sending over teams more seriously.

Calls to end the compromise rules series are not unfamiliar, but the level of opposition to the International Rules will be bolstered after a thoroughly underwhelming series that concluded on Saturday night with Ireland romping to an aggregate victory of 101 points over the two tests.

As an international player himself, Coulter took part in six campaigns against Australia, and he hankers for a return to the days when the AFL sent their brightest and best.

"The Australians are treating it very badly," commented Coulter.

"If they were to send over the likes of Gary Ablett and Dane Swan – Dane Swan played a couple of years ago and he was brilliant when they beat us in Croke Park.

"If they don't start sending over at least 10 of the top 20 players, I don't see it as having a big future, and I love it. I really do love the game itself. But it's dead on its knees if something is not worked out," the 2010 All Star warned.

The Australian representatives are believed to have done a very effective job in convincing their Irish counterparts that a team of indigenous players would be a boost for the future, after some initial scepticism. The novelty of such a venture – the last indigenous team to represent Australia was a cricket team that toured England in the 1880s – introduced a curiosity factor in the weeks leading up to the contests.

This was reflected in the handsome attendance of 17,657 at the first test in Breffni Park. However, the lack of quality in the football proved some of the worst fears about this Australian team. Three players had little – and in one case no – experience of AFL football, while two other members of the panel in Aaron Davey and Nathan Lovett-Murray had retired.

Coulter admits there wasn't much temptation to attend the second test, having watched the first one on television.

In Croke Park, 28,526 was a chronically-poor attendance rate and Coulter admits he never thought of attending.

"I had a fair idea it was going to be one-sided and that's the reason I didn't go. From an Irish point of view they were very good but I just thought Australia were terrible."

Instead, he watched it in the company of his former Down team-mate and Collingwood Blues star Martin Clarke, who had some interesting things to say about the attitude of sending players over to face Ireland in this form of competition.

"He was telling me that the Australians want to play – the players want to play in it – but he feels it is down to what the top-brass are sending over," says Coulter who feels the series is having a detrimental effect on county finals.

"It's not fair on the ordinary club player who has worked hard all year and coming up with the build-up to the county final they find all the talk is about why the game is not being called off.

For club players, that is their time. That debate just takes away all the excitement and they are not focusing on the game; they are focusing on why it hasn't been moved."

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