Ireland manager Anthony Tohill and his Australian counterpart Mick Malthouse last night warned their players that to concede goals in tomorrow’s first International Rules in Limerick could impact heavily on their prospects of clinching the series.
With a goal carrying a six-point value, both teams will be particularly keen to find the net but with the respective managers laying considerable stress on their defensive mechanisms, the need to keep a clean sheet has been highlighted.
And in consequence goalkeepers Stephen Cluxton and Dustin Fletcher will find themselves cast in key roles as their sides bid to secure what would be a morale-boosting win to take into Saturday week’s second Test at Croke Park.
Cluxton has acquired vast experience since becoming Dublin No 1 several years ago and his agility, vision and intelligent distribution are viewed as important assets by Irish boss Tohill.
The Dubliner distinguished himself during the recent All-Ireland championship and his inclusion in the International Rules squad came as no surprise.
Fletcher is one of the most experienced members of the Australian side having played in four different International Rules series and he is acutely aware that the Irish will be keen to see his net ripple tomorrow night.
“I know that we are up against a very good Irish side. It promises to be a very open, free-flowing match and I don’t think that there will be any of the violence that has marred Rules games in the past. But our defence will be put to the test and we certainly don’t want to be conceding goals especially as Ireland will have even greater support in Croke Park for the second Test,” maintains Fletcher.
The Aussies sent out a warning that they had brought their shooting boots along with them when they overcame a combined Cork Colleges team by 4-22-15 (105 points) to 0-3-3 (12) on Wednesday
The fact that they netted four goals will encourage the tourists for whom Brad Greene (22 pts), Jack Riewoldt (16), Alan Goodes (14) and Eddie Betts (11) were top scorers.
Australia, with players eyeing starting slots in tomorrow’s Test, certainly did not show any clemency to their student hosts which convinces Ireland boss Tohill that they now have the Cormac McAnallen trophy very much in their sights.
“They adopted a very positive approach from the outset and some of their finishing was first-class. They have shown what they are capable of and we know that we have to look sharp tomorrow night,” said Tohill.
He will confirm his starting line-up today with skipper Steven McDonnell and Dublin hot-shot Bernard Brogan likely to form a twin-pronged strike force.
McDonnell, prominent in Armagh’s charge into the All Ireland quarter-finals, led the squad on his Captain’s Run this morning and afterwards joined manager Tohill and his selectors at a press conference.
“It would be good to win but it would be even better to win in style,” he said.
“Our preparation have gone very well and if we can get a few breaks and maybe put some points on the board early on then we will be in with a decent chance.”