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Ireland's true grit shows these rules aren't broken

Australia 56 Ireland 46 - International Rules series

By Declan Bogue

In all the examinations conducted on the health of this sporting experiment, the conclusions tallied up. The future of an International Rules series would depend entirely on the quality of contest produced, and on the crowd it gathers.

Given the Australians would only commit to one game, staging it in the western wilds of Perth rather than in the heartlands of Victoria was quite a gamble, but it was a risk worth taking as 38,262 showed up at Patersons Stadium for a game where Ireland paid far too much respect to their professional opponents, and ultimately ended up tamely conceding the Cormac McAnallen Cup.

It wasn't quite as bad as it might have been, however.

At half-time, Ireland trailed 35-7, after 40 minutes and only one over, the equivalent of a point in Gaelic football.

It also represented the only score a curiously off-colour Michael Murphy managed all day.

Plenty of wides to talk about however, and it remains a mystery how some top-class performers in Gaelic football can be so rash when the sight of the 'behinds' post appear in these tests.

Steve Johnson kicked four overs in the first half. Ireland knew they were drowning and even some traditional game-slowing tactics in Gaelic football such as holding onto the ball after the whistle is blown for a foul could not work with the rules determining that you must instantly surrender possession or risk the ball being moved on 20 metres.

At one point, the television cameras picked up a feed from Australian assistant coach Chris Scott, sitting in his coaching box, who said: "The secret for us is to appreciate the skills of the Irish. We know they are not going to be able to kick the ball so well."

How right he was.

The curious thing was that the third quarter, known as 'Championship quarter' in Aussie Rules parlance, was so utterly transformed.

Mattie Donnelly, Kevin McKernan and Darren Hughes showed a refreshing lack of reverence for their opponents and that bit of Ulster stubborness dragged them back into it as Hughes finished a goal set up by his Monaghan team mate Conor McManus and Donnelly spun two long-range efforts over.

It took Ireland too long to realise that lying deep in a defensive shell is useless when players only need to catch a ball to take a mark. In their own game, you have to catch the ball and then face several tacklers before a scoring chance can present itself. That logic seemed to escape Irish manager Paul Earley and his coaching staff.

Sensing that Dustin Fletcher was somewhat uncomfortable under the high ball, Ireland rained in ball after ball, causing some alarm bells in the Australian backline.

At one stage Sean Cavanagh gave a two-handed shove to Fletcher as he was returning to ground after taking a mark, kicking the loose ball to the goal. It was correctly disallowed.

Australia ultimately held out, their 28-point half-time lead providing a firewall against losing both the third and fourth quarters. After the game, GAA Director-General Paraic Duffy made some positive noises about the continuation of this series, providing Central Council grants approval.

In an interview for Saturday's edition of this paper, former Ireland vice-captain Peter Canavan estimated support for the series among top brass at 70%, but conceded that might be generous.

The latest idea is to bring it to America, in order to milk/reconnect (delete as appropriate) with the Diaspora. Next Saturday, a game of Gaelic football between the 2013 and 2014 All-Stars will take place in Boston. Would they not enjoy that better?

Australia: D Fletcher; N Smith (1x own goal - 6pts to Ireland), H Taylor, S Mitchell; J McVeigh (2x overs, 6pts), L Hodge, K Jack (1x over, 3pts); J Watson, J Selwood (1x over, 3pts); R Grey (2x behinds, 1x over, 5pts), S Johnson (4x overs, 12pts), B Harvey (1x over, 3pts); L Breust (1x behind, 1x over, 4pts), N Naitanui, C Wingard (3x overs, 9pts). Interchange: N Reiwoldt (1x behind, 3x overs, 10pts), P Dangerfield, T Boak, T Rockliff, L Montagna, B Smith (1x behind, 1pt), B Irchall, B Goddard.

Ireland: P O'Rourke; N McGee, F Hanley, C McDonald; C McKaigue, J McCarthy, L Keegan; D Moran (1x behind, 1pt), P Hanley (1x behind, 1pt); S Cavanagh (2x behind, 2pts), M Murphy (1x over, 3pts), C Begley (1x over, 3pts); C O'Neill (1x behind, 1pt), A O'Shea, C McManus (4x overs, 12 pts). Interchange: A Walsh, D Hughes (1x behind, 1x goal, 7 pts), R Munnelly (1x behind, 1pt), M Donnelly (2x overs, 6pts), C Boyle, K McKernan (1x over, 3pts), K McLoughlin, C Cregg.

Referees: M Duffy (Sligo) and S Meredith (Australia).

Attendance: 38,262.

Belfast Telegraph

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