Ireland 52 Australia 55: (Australia won series on 102-92 aggregate): The International Rules series is alive and well — but it’s Ireland’s overall health that requires to be closely assessed before the action resumes Down Under next Autumn.
IRISH BOSS LEFT TO REFLECT ON WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEENJoy and pain: Ireland players (left) reflect on what might have been as Aussie duo Adam Goodes and Brad Green celebrate victory
In eventually surrendering the Cormac McAnallen trophy to the Aussies in front of an astonishing 61,000 crowd at Croke Park following their eclipse in the first Test in Limerick, the Irish have provided their team management, GAA chiefs and fans in general with much food for thought in terms of their current ability to meet international challenges.
If the first Test portrayed Ireland in a dismal light when mistakes proliferated, then the stunning fourth quarter burst of passion, pride and scoring power that highlighted this Headquarters showdown nonetheless still failed to camouflage the deficiencies that ultimately contributed to the downfall of Anthony Tohill’s men.
The former 1993 Derry All Ireland winner, crestfallen at the finish, subsequently admitted that his team had made life hard for themselves from the first Test.
“The lads gave absolutely everything. They were probably coming from too far back and even with that we got three up and yet we walked away with nothing. I thought we were good enough to win the game and you have to be fair to the players, but they just exhausted themselves in the latter stages of the game and we came up short,” sighed the Irish boss.
“But that is life, that is football. Australia played some fantastic football — they played better than any Australian team I have seen in a Rules context. Yet I still thought we were phenomenal in the last quarter because of the pressure we put on them.”
In spite of his team’s setback, Tohill, whose obvious management skills and dignified demeanour could yet be employed at inter-county level, still believes that there are a number of positives to be taken from the series.
“I think the fans got entertainment value and that’s important. We are in the business of winning matches, though. But I think most will have seen the entertainment value of the second half. The series is on a solid footing. The most important thing, while it is great to win, it was played in a sporting manner. Credit to both sides for the sporting attitude they both took into the game. It has to be recognised and I think the series has a good future,” declared Tohill.
In arrears at 16-9 by the end of the first quarter, Ireland’s woes continued in the second quarter when, with Brad Green and Dane Swan showing superb marksmanship, the Aussies eased into a 28-17 advantage, Down duo Benny Coulter and Kevin McKernan sparking vestiges of Irish resistance.
But the home side still trailed 45-28 late in the third quarter and tottered on the precipice until James Kavanagh’s 50th minute goal, engineered by the majestic McKernan, sparked their recovery.
However, despite a flurry of Ireland scores in the last quarter from Murphy, Cavanagh, McKernan and Brogan, two late overs from Green and Swan, robbed Ireland of their momentum and helped usher Australia to glory.
Ireland skipper Steven McDonnell conceded that the Australians had played with great commitment and had sown a surprising degree of shooting accuracy.
“They took some fine scores and maybe we ourselves missed a few chances. Our goal gave us great impetus but we were not quite able to build on it to the extent that we would have liked. All the Irish players put in a massive effort,” said McDonnell.
And while Aussie boss Mick Malthouse was naturally pleased with his side’s success he heaped praise on the Irish.
“They were unfairly castigated after the first Test yet they rose to the occasion in this second Test and came very close to winning the game. We were under the hammer in the last quarter but we managed to get a couple of vital overs and that steadied us,” enthused Malthouse.
And he added: “We know already that Ireland will be very keen to reclaim the Cormac McAnallen trophy when they come to Australia for the 2011 series so we must be ready for them. This was a fantastic which showed sport in a great light.”
Maybe so — but that will undoubtedly be small comfort to Tohill and his players on this occasion.