Ireland captain Steven McDonnell has told his players to put the first International Rules Test firmly to the back of their minds and instead show their “real form” when they face Australia in episode two at Croke Park this evening.
McDonnell, who led the team on his Captain’s Run yesterday before attending a Press Conference, stressed that it’s what happens in the second Test that defines just who deserves to win the Cormac McAnallen trophy.
“If you were to look back over the recent history of the competition this becomes very clear,” says McDonnell.
“The first Test is about staying close and not allowing the other side to build up too much of a lead. While we were unhappy with our display last Saturday we believe we can make up the lost ground.”
While there will be general agreement with his assessment that Ireland’s kick-passing was “atrocious” and that their overall finishing was “poor”, there is also a recognition that Anthony Tohill’s side can unleash a much more cohesive performance tonight.
McDonnell makes no bones about Ireland’s task, suggesting that every player is capable of better than they offered last week-end. “Considering the calibre of players we have, I just know that we can do an awful lot better,” states McDonnell.
Along with Bernard Brogan, Benny Coulter and Sean Cavanagh he will be expected to spearhead the Irish threat up front while players like Leighton Glynn, Tadgh Kennelly, Martin Clarke and Kevin Reilly can help provide the ammunition for them to shoot down the visitors.
But Australia will certainly not be fazed by the Croke Park big-match atmosphere.
Indeed their manager Mick Malthouse not only wants to see “the biggest possible crowd” but is particularly anxious to see a contest that will go some way towards eradicating what he describes as “the terrible negative coverage” afforded to last Saturday’s first Test.
With his captain Adam Goodes, man of the match in Limerick, along with Eddie Bettes, Dane Cross, Leigh Montagna and Todd Banfield in particular hoping to inflict more damage on the Irish, Malthouse has chided Irish journalists for their “depressing coverage” to date.
“I have never seen as much negativity in a sporting context,” he sighed.
Clearly, Ireland are under huge pressure to perform tonight.
Considering that the Australians arrived here as an inexperienced, apprehensive outfit unused to the round ball and supposedly lacking in guile and craft, the possibility of their returning Down Under with the Cormac McAnallen trophy in tow would be a savage blow to Ireland’s sporting morale — a fact admitted by home manager Anthony Tohill.
“There is a lot of pride at stake in a game such as this,” insists Tohill.
“Much hard work has gone into resurrecting the series and we would hope to see the sport shown in the best possible light this evening.”
Fans will obviously want to see more passion and commitment from both sides this weekend.
And Ireland must maximise their use of inter-change players to ensure that any momentum which the team builds is maintained for the duration of the contest.
Last weekend some players were given only nominal game-time but Tohill has now a rather better idea of his overall resources and this is likely to be reflected in his formation and tactics this evening.
Ireland certainly must make an impression in the first quarter — to allow the Australians to build quickly on the lead they already hold could have disastrous consequences for the home side.
Ireland must endeavour to get off to a good start and rack up a few scores.
However, given the fact that the stakes are high and that the Croke Park crowd will get behind them, Steven McDonnell and his men should triumph in the end.