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Ulster stars to dominate Rules

By John Campbell

Ulster could provide upwards of a dozen players for the Ireland side that will meet Australia in the two-Test International Rules series in a few weeks time.

Ireland manager Anthony Tohill will have the task of whittling down his current 30-strong squad to 23 for the series and he faces some tough calls.

Along with his selectors, Tohill supervised a squad session and trial match at Dublin City University at the weekend. A further session is planned for next weekend as preparations are stepped up for the safari Down Under.

Several players from the Dublin and Kerry teams, who were in action in the All-Ireland final, joined in the session, but others were missing because of club championship commitments.

Tohill (pictured with Steven McDonnell) is particularly keen to address elements of Ireland's play that were not quite satisfactory last year and will place considerable emphasis on moving the ball quickly.

It was felt last year that the Irish players tended to dwell on the ball for too long on occasions and quickly became wrapped up in tackles - an aspect of the Rules series in which the Aussies generally excel.

A number of Ulster players including Donegal trio Michael Murphy, Neil McGee and Karl Lacey, who is the firm favourite to become Ulster Footballer of the Year, have been impressive in the squad training sessions.

The Donegal trio could be handed key roles in Tohill's starting line-up against the Aussies.

It has not been confirmed as yet if Ireland players who are currently playing Rules football in Australia such as the retiring Tadgh Kennelly along with Setanta O hAilpin, Zach Touhy and Pearse Hanley will be in Tohill's squad.

Tohill has been handed a boost now that Tommy Walsh has returned from Australia where he is under contract to St Kilda in the AFL to help his club in the Kerry championship and is particularly keen to play in the Rules series.

Irrespective of the availability of certain players, Ulster is still expected to make a big contribution to the squad although some players who might have been regarded as automatic selections, such as Tyrone's Sean Cavanagh, have been ruled out by injury.

Armagh duo Steven McDonnell and Ciaran McKeever along with Down's Benny Coulter and Martin Clarke could be in the frame.

The Irish players have been working with strength and conditioning coach Mike McGurn to ensure that they are primed for battle.

Laois referee Maurice Deegan will be the man in the middle for the Tests. He has big match experience from refereeing the 2008 All-Ireland final between Tyrone and Kerry.

Ireland are keen to win the first Test at the Etihad Stadium, Melbourne on October 28 in order to have the best chance of clinching the series at the Metricon Stadium, Queensland a week later.

Belfast Telegraph

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