Ireland manager Anthony Tohill has chosen seven Ulster players in his squad for the International Rules series against Australia.
And the former Derry All Ireland winner has handed the captaincy to Armagh’s vastly experienced forward Steven McDonnell as the Irish seek to retain the trophy they won Down Under two years ago.
McDonnell, who spearheaded Armagh’s drive into this year’s All Ireland quarter-finals, will be joined by his county colleagues Ciaran McKeever and Brendan Donaghy, Down duo Martin Clarke and Kevin McKernan, Tyrone’s Sean Cavanagh and Donegal full-forward Michael Murphy in the 22-man squad from which the starting side to face the Aussies in the opening Test tomorrow week in Limerick will be chosen.
Tohill has opted for six players who have already played Australian Rules football — in addition to Martin Clarke, who returned from Down Under to help spark Down’s surge into the All Ireland final, Kerry duo Tadgh Kennelly and Tommy Walsh, Laois ace Brendan Begley and Cork defender Michael Shields along with Carlow’s Brendan Murphy have spent terms with clubs in Australia.
Many of the other players in the squad have already played in the International Rules series with Sean Cavanagh having skippered Ireland to glory two years ago when Sean Boylan was in charge.
Tohill has clearly gone for strength and stamina — qualities that are embossed within his panel with a healthy ration of steel and skill. He has already stressed the importance of an Irish victory in the first Test.
“We will need this to give us momentum for the second Test at Croke Park. I must say I am delighted with the commitment and enthusiasm that the players have been showing. We have a number of standby players and it may be that we will have to call upon some of these,” said Tohill.
One of those waiting in the wings is Down ace Benny Coulter who is currently receiving intensive training for a slight hamstring pull which limited his involvement for his club Mayobridge in the closing stages of the Down Championship.
“I would be hopeful of coming into consideration for selection for the second Test,” said Coulter, one of Ireland’s best exponents of the Rules code.
Skipper McDonnell, who has played in the series on five occasions, brings huge experience to the table and his scoring touch will be central to Ireland’s attacking strategy.
“It is a great honour for me to be asked to lead my country. There is obviously big interest in the International Rules series and we are very keen to win both Tests on Irish soil,” said Killeavy clubman McDonnell.