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GAA president O'Neill is backing annual Rules Series

By Martin Breheny

The International Rules Series may resume on an annual basis, rather than being played on two out of every three years. In that event, it's likely to be one game only, similar to what's happening this year, when Ireland and Australia clash in Patersons Stadium, Perth on Saturday.

GAA president Liam O'Neill favours the retention of the GAA-AFL link-up and believes the game should be played annually.

That was the pattern between 1998 and 2006, after which one year in three was missed out.

"Taking a gap year is a bit like breaking off an engagement and going back again - it doesn't always work," said O'Neill.

The success - or otherwise - of the one-Test engagement will become apparent on Saturday. The indications are positive from an attendance perspective, with a crowd of around 40,000 expected to turn out for the first Test in Perth since 2008.

The AFL initiated the one-Test approach, after consultation with the clubs, who were not willing to release players for two weeks but were prepared to make their top stars available for one Test.

It means that after fielding sub-standard teams for the last two series, Australia now have what may be their best team in the 30-year history of the series.

While the GAA would prefer the two-Test model, they had to go along with the latest plan because, otherwise, Australia would again field a weakened team, leading to a further slump in public interest and the demise of the hybrid game.

O'Neill said that if the series is to continue, a clear road map for the future is required. And while there may be some reservations about staging the series over one game on an annual basis, O'Neill believes it could work.

"I would hate to see it thrown away because some people disliked one Test rather than two. We need more certainty coming out of this - and to me certainty would be playing it every year," said the president.

"We can make decisions centrally in the GAA. It seems the AFL can't - they have to consult with clubs and players."

While O'Neill favours the continuation of the series, he said that much would depend on how Saturday's game went. Discussions between the GAA and AFL will take place on Sunday, after which a clearer picture of the future is expected to emerge.

Reacting to an AFL suggestion that a Test could be played on netural turf in New York, O'Neill said that the GAA had given it no consideration.

"If we were going to America, I'd like to see us playing Gaelic football," he said.

"If at some the stage the continuation of this series would benefit from a game in America, it would probably have to be their home Test.

"Let them play their home game in America if they want to do that."

While backing a continuation of the series, O'Neill is aware that since his presidential term ends in February, there could be a change of direction.

O'Neill, who is in Perth for the International Rules series, is maintaining a keen interest on how the AFL conducts its affairs. But while the GAA and AFL have much in common, the amateur-professional divide continues to separate them.

Despite predictions - most recently expressed in a book by Eugene McGee (himself a former Ireland manager) - that it will be virtually impossible for the GAA to resist a slide into professionalism over the next decade, O'Neill remains adamant that it will not happen.

"It's not on the agenda. The players don't want it and I think we all realise that it is not in our best interests whatsoever," he insisted.

"We have something that people in other sports around the world wish they could have. So why dilute it?

"I don't see it (professionalism) coming in. There's no rationale for it.

"The costings don't stack up and, anyway, there's no appetite for it so why even entertain it? We're doing just fine as we are now."

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