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International Rules game is still alive and kicking in troubled times

Australia 53 Ireland 50

By Martin Breheny

It used to be a familiar ritual at the end of International Rules series, checking in with the GAA and AFL to ascertain if it had a future.

Not any more. This year's two games portrayed the mixed game at its best, providing a solid platform for the AFL and GAA to build on.

The reasons for the doubts over the years were varied, ranging from the disgraceful violence in 2005 and 2006 to the Australians cheapening the international concept by fielding a weak team in their home series in 2011 and sending an even weaker indigenous squad to Ireland in 2013.

And then there was the one-match arrangements in 2014 and 2015. It made no sense for squads to travel 11,000 miles for one game, a nonsense that was unsustainable under every heading.

And if all those weren't damaging enough to the mixed game, snipers in both countries regularly trained their rifles in its direction. They were - and remain so - active in Ireland.

Where's the point of a game that's neither Gaelic football nor Australian Rules? Why spend money that could be more profitably directed elsewhere? Is it fair to pit amateurs against professionals?

Why maintain links with the AFL when their clubs want to poach our best young talent?

The whole point of the game is that since neither the GAA nor AFL have an international outlet, they improvise as best they can.

Of course, the hybrid game isn't perfect but it's pretty damn good when played well, as in Adelaide and, more especially, Perth, over the last eight days.

Even if you're not for changing your opinion, will you not admit that the two games were highly entertaining? When last did you see that pace, movement, angles of running and so few stoppages? And yes, it was tactical too, although that would not have been as evident on TV as it was at the grounds.

Australian coach Chris Scott paid tribute to the Irish management's tactical know-how, especially how they re-adjusted between Adelaide and Perth.

"They clearly know what they're doing," he said.

"A lot used to be made about amateurs against professionals. There's nothing amateurish about how they prepare.

"Even within a week, the way they adjusted and really had us covered for the majority of the game speaks of how highly skilled their people are."

Pitting GAA managements and players against professionals is good for all. Joe Kernan isn't going to learn a whole lot more but he certainly showed that he hadn't lost his touch.

The experience will be good too for Padraic Joyce, Darragh O Se and Dermot Earley.

Opponents of the series claim that it's a waste of money when, of course, it's cost-neutral for the GAA, who use gate receipts from home games to fund the enterprise. As for the argument that maintaining links with the AFL merely encourages their clubs to poach Irish talent, it's pure nonsense.

The success of this year's series, albeit tinged with disappointment that Ireland lost both games, should put it on a firm footing.

Early goals from Gary Brennan and Chris Barrett saw the Irish take an aggregate lead as they moved 14-1 up. An Irish comeback still looked on as they led 30-17 at the half-time interval as tempers flared with several players getting involved in a brawl.

However, Australia dominated the second half to run out deserved winners.

Kernan signed off a remarkable managerial career with club, county, province and country with a plea to the GAA and AFL to build on what had been achieved.

"Keep it going and make it even better," he said. "If there's no International Rules series, it would be a shame for all the players that have played it and who want to play it."

Scott suggested that playing three games would further enhance the series, but accepted that extending it might bring complications.

"I think it's something we could work through. The potential for this game is huge," he said.

For now, at least, its future seems secure, with the possibility of a game in Philadelphia next year now bring explored.

"It's an incredible honour to be asked to play for your country. If it's on in Jupiter, we'll go to Jupiter - wherever it's on we'll try to attack it," said Clare's Gary Brennan.

Belfast Telegraph

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