International Rules: Ulstermen stand up to be counted in a losing cause
It is widely acknowledged that Ulster houses perhaps some of the most trenchant critics of the International Rules series.
Among the more high-profile sceptics is Tyrone manager Mickey Harte who reiterated his opposition to the entire concept at the weekend while many grassroots GAA followers in the province have been quick to take a leaf from his book.
And yet on a weekend when Ireland fell short of expectations it was their Ulster contingent who stepped up smartly to the mark in a bid to overturn the advantage that Australia had assembled during the course of the first Test in Limerick.
In this respect, few did better than Down duo Benny Coulter and Kevin McKernan and Donegal full-forward Michael Murphy. Tyrone’s Sean Cavanagh, skipper when the series was won Down Under in 2008, also made an impact alongside skipper Steven McDonnell with Ciaran McKeever and Brendan Donaghy solid in defence.
The introduction of Coulter to the Irish attack in Saturday’s second Test clearly galvanised the team as a whole while McKernan not only provided further confirmation that he has morphed into an outstanding footballer but whipped over important scores and provided the assist from which Kildare’s James Kavanagh steered in Ireland’s goal.
McKernan, who will line out with Burren against Coleraine in the Ulster Club championship on Sunday next, proved a tower of strength in the Irish side, his forward bursts regularly unhinging the Aussies’ sometimes fragile defensive mechanism.
But with the Ireland side unable to achieve consistent momentum, his efforts ultimately proved to be in vain while the danger that Coulter provided was minimised to some extent because of the rather poor quality of possession with which he was served.
Skipper Steven McDonnell worked overtime to try and ignite the Irish fire and his scoring touch was in vogue but he was unable to elicit the response that he would have liked from those round him.
Murphy, though, created quite a stir when he was propelled into the Irish attack, landing two superb overs the second of which shot Ireland into a 52-48 lead and sparked a real buzz around Croke Park. At that precise point, there was a clear expectation that the home side would go on and win the game. But when Swan and Green swooped for late overs, they eased Australia’s fears and thus the impact that Murphy, McKernan and Coulter in particular had made in the most demanding circumstances was lost.