GAA: Ulster hopes for Rules series dwindling
With just three Ulster counties left in the race for the All Ireland title, the prospect of a substantial number of players from the province making it onto the Ireland team that will face Australia in the International Rules series later in the year is diminishing.
When Ireland won the series two years ago ‘Down Under’, Tyrone’s Sean Cavanagh proved an inspirational captain and he is currently one of several players from his county who is being strongly assessed by Ireland manager Anthony Tohill and his selectors Sean Og de Paor, Kevin O’Brien and Eoin ‘Bomber’ Liston as they continue their extensive trawl of inter-county championship matches.
With Down and Monaghan both in action today in qualifying ties, it is expected that Mourne county players like Martin Clarke (pictured), Ambrose Rogers, Dan Gordon, Brendan Coulter and Daniel Hughes (if fit) will come under the microscope while Monaghan boys Paul Finlay, Darren Hughes, Damien Freeman, Tommy Freeman and Dick Clerkin may also merit some attention.
Traditionally, teams that enjoy a protracted tenure in the All Ireland series tend to provide the lion’s share of the players for the Rules squad although Tohill has made it clear that his selection net has been cast far and wide.
“We are looking for particular type of players who can fit comfortably into the Rules format,” says Tohill.
“With the series having been put into cold storage last year we would expect that this will make the Australians even more keen to reclaim the trophy which they surrendered in their own country two years ago.
“There are special skills required for the Rules series which requires tremendous agility and stamina.
“We need boys that have ball-winning capacity, good awareness skills and the ability to retain the ball under huge pressure.
“I said at the outset that we really need players who are totally committed to representing Ireland and I feel this takes on even more significance now.
“It’s essential that we have players who will give their best for their country in what will be very tough contests.”
In the recent past a number of prominent Ulster players including Brendan Coulter, Steven McDonnell, Ciaran McKeever, Philip Jordan, Paddy Bradley and Karl Lacey have made a big impact in the Rules series and Tohill and his selectors may now turn to some new faces from the province to bolster their squad.
Ulster players who have considerable experience of Australian Rules football such as Martin Clarke (Down) and Kevin Dyas (Armagh) as well as Antrim’s Niall McKeever who is currently playing ‘Down Under’ are also likely to come into the selection frame.
McKeever was outstanding for Antrim in last year’s Ulster championship and it was following his county’s exit from the All Ireland qualifiers at the hands of Kerry that the Portglenone man embarked on a full-time playing career in Australia.
Ireland will meet Australia in the First Test at Pairc na nGael in Limerick on Sunday October 24 with the Second Test taking place at Croke Park a week later.