Ireland aim to rule series Down Under
The bulk of the Ireland squad today jetted out to Australia for the International Rules series fired by a burning desire to return with the Cormac McAnallen trophy.
Manager Anthony Tohill has not allowed ongoing doubts about the availability of skipper Stephen Cluxton (Dublin) and Colm Begley (Laois) to undermine morale as his players focus on the two-Test series against the Aussies.
The squad included a number of Ulster players including vice-captain Ciaran McKeever and Kevin McKernan, who won a Down Championship medal with Burren last Sunday.
There was a boost for boss Tohill immediately prior to departure when the Galway and Wicklow county boards agreed to make major changes to their fixtures programmes thus leaving Finian Hanley and Leighton Glynn free from club commitments and available to join the Rules squad.
In the meantime, contingency plans have been put in place to fly out Cluxton and Begley should their club Parnells lose the Dublin Championship tie against Ballymun Kickhams this weekend.
If Parnells win, then the players may decide to stay on to assist them in the championship, meaning that Tohill and his selectors Kieran McGeeney, Sean Og de Paor, Kevin O’Brien and Eoin Liston would be forced once again to refer to their list of stand-by players from which they will choose the necessary replacements.
Donegal defender Karl Lacey, who has been troubled by an ankle problem lately but is understood to be fully fit now, and Cork utility forward Paddy Kelly, a late call-up for Kerry’s Darran O’Sullivan, linked up with the travelling party.
Kelly, a 24-year-old schoolteacher, has been in outstanding form for Cork for the past two years and won the battle with Down’s Danny Hughes for a place in the half-forward division on the Ireland side.
While reservations continue to be expressed about the staging of club championship matches at the same time as the International Rules series, Tohill remains philosophical as he awaits confirmation of his overall squad for the first Test which is due to take place next Friday in Melbourne.
“We know the position we are in and we will wait and see what happens over the weekend,” he said.
“Obviously in an ideal world you would love to have everyone on board from the outset but we are very much aware that players have great loyalty to their clubs and we have the utmost respect for that,” observed Tohill.
It was in fact Darran O’Sullivan, a strong candidate for Footballer of the Year when the All Stars banquet is held in Dublin tonight, who articulated feelings in relation to the clash of competitions.
“The possibility of club championships being put on hold for a few weeks has to be looked at because we are playing an amateur game and we don’t get that many opportunities to throw on an Irish jersey,” said O’Sullivan.
Meanwhile, next year's national football league will open with a glamour re-match of this year's All-Ireland final in Croke Park.
The opening night of the 2012 Allianz NFL will start with a real bang — a Saturday night showstopper between Dublin and Kerry on February 4.