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McDonnell: Leaving McKeever behind is a huge mistake

By Declan Bogue

International Rules legend and former Armagh forward Steven McDonnell has expressed his disappointment and surprise at Ireland manager Paul Earley for leaving out his former Orchard team mate Ciaran McKeever from the travelling panel.

"I can't understand how he wasn't selected," said McDonnell, who was captain of the 2010 Ireland team.

The 35-year-old Killeavy man also became the first International Rules player to accumulate over 100 points in the 2011 series in Australia and finished his career with a total of 118 points.

He continued: "From an Armagh point of view it is disappointing but from an Ireland point of view, and a supporter of Ireland, they may live to regret that decision. You need leaders and he leads by example in what he does, especially in a game of this magnitude - he would put his body on the line."

McKeever spoke at the launch of the Dr McKenna Cup recently of his disappointment at not making the squad. In 2011, he was vice-captain for the series and handled all the media commitments of notoriously media-shy captain, Stephen Cluxton.

While he had attended 11 of the 12 collective sessions, he missed one to attend an Armagh meeting, and believes this would have counted against him when Earley sat down to finalise the squad.

"I am an Armagh man, and I suppose they will probably come out and say I am supporting my own county men, but since 2008, Ciaran McKeever has been one of the most competitive and consistent performers in the game," explained McDonnell.

"This is something that is overlooked in Ciaran's game time and time again, but he is a quality kick-passer. And you need that in this game.

"When the challenge is put up to them, the type of player Ciaran McKeever is, he stands up to those challenges."

The 2002 All-Ireland winner is renowned for his support of this series, but believes that the end may not be far away for the sporting hybrid, given the series is only one game, played far from the Aussie Rules heartland of Victoria.

"You might think the Australians have the advantage over the Ireland team that has been selected but the Irish are bringing a fairly strong squad as well.

"It will be interesting to see how close and competitive the game will be, but if it's not, then I would agree that it is almost dead," he commented.

"I don't like to say that because I am a huge fan of the game, but unless this match is closely-fought, with plenty of entertainment value as well, then I can't see it having a future.

"Having said that, I am basing it on a lot of last year as well."

He added: "Perth wouldn't be the strongest city for AFL followers at all. The fact that it is there, it might be disappointing from the players' point of view but they have to get on with it.

"They would love to be playing their one and only test in Melbourne but I have played at the Subiaco twice - it is a good stadium to be playing in.

"Perth as a city, does it attract the right Aussie Rules following? I'm not too sure it does."

He is also not terribly impressed with the attitude of the Australian contingent to recruiting their best players down through the years, stating: "As a player who played in the rules many times, you want to be coming up against the best players who are available and having the competition competitive.

"The likes of Adam Goodes, big Barry Hall, they were great players.

"This year, Australia have opted to go with that as well, the main players in the country.

"There is one thing for sure, the Ireland players will be thriving on the challenge of that, they will love that."

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