When it was decided that efforts should be stepped up to resurrect the International Rules series after it had been shelved last year, former Derry All Ireland winner Anthony Tohill found himself part of a high-powered delegation that travelled to Dubai to conduct talks with Australian Football League representatives which ultimately led to the Rules format being revived.
Today, Tohill is settling into his new role as Ireland team manager in succession to Sean Boylan — and he has lost no time in throwing out a challenge to those players who may consider themselves as potential candidates for the Ireland squad.
“I will be placing very strong emphasis on how players perform in this year’s series here in Ireland,” maintains former Derry All Ireland winner Tohill.
“I will see how things go in the Tests in Limerick and Croke Park in October and the manner in which players perform will obviously be taken into consideration in relation to the composition of the squad for next year’s series in Australia.”
And while he admits that the prospect of touring Down Under invariably holds huge appeal for all players, he insists that retaining the coveted Cormac McAnallen trophy on home soil this year is of paramount importance.
“Obviously the main aim will be to keep the trophy here,” added Tohill. “It was hard won in Australia in 2008 when Sean Cavanagh was an inspirational captain and I would be very keen to see that the levels of skill, character and commitment which were on display then replicated in this year’s series.”
Tohill has vast experience of Rules football with the Melbourne club and in Ireland’s colours having turned out for his country on eight occasions prior to his retirement in 2003.
He served as a selector with the 2006 and ’08 sides, his experience and motivational skills playing a significant part in Ireland’s success.
Now he is determined not only to see Ireland extend their record of success in the competition but also to see the image of the International Rules series enhanced.
“It was disappointing that the series had to be shelved last year because of the violence which had blighted games in the recent past,” he said.
“We will be taking a very positive attitude to the table this year and the emphasis we hope will be on playing quality football throughout.”
He has assembled a strong backroom team that comprises Kevin O’Brien (Wicklow), Eoin ‘Bomber’ Liston (Kerry) and Sean Og de Paor (Galway), all of whom have extensive experience of Rules football.
“I am very happy to have people of this calibre on board with me. They will all have key roles to play and hopefully we will be able to come up with a winning formula,” says Tohill.
The quartet will undertake an extensive trawl of players over the course of the All Ireland Championship season by the end of which Tohill hopes to be in a position to confirm a strong panel for the two Test series in October.
He may announce a preliminary panel with the door left open for players who will be involved in the All Ireland Football final on September 19.