Australian manager Rodney Eade unwittingly provided Ireland with an extra incentive to emerge triumphant from the opening International Rules Test at the Etihad Stadium in Melbourne tomorrow when he suggested that his players will not be “over physical.”
Eade appears blithely unaware that the Irish are in fact prepared for a physical battle — but within the spirit of the hybrid game.
And the tourists have also fashioned a strategy that manager Anthony Tohill believes will allow them to merge their running and delivery skills with solid tackling, tenacious harassment and clever covering.
Ireland clearly carry a lot of hurt into this game following their losses in both Tests — in Limerick and Dublin — last year and Eade’s hint that his side might be prepared to dilute their physical challenge has been interpreted more as an insult than anything else by the fired-up Irish.
It was one of Ireland’s most experienced Rules campaigners, Leighton Glynn, who last night best encapsulated the Irish approach to tomorrow’s contest.
“Look, it was really sickening for us not to have got over the line last year,” he explained.
“This is something we would like to put right. There are a lot of lads that were involved last year who are still involved this time round so they will be looking to remedy matters,” rapped Glynn.
“We put in a savage effort in training last year and we thought we were right going into the Tests but we fell just short in both.
“The Australians were that bit better than us on each occasion.”
Back-to-back series defeats are unthinkable, according to Irish boss Tohill, but he accepts that the Australians must be treated with the utmost respect.
“They have been preparing thoroughly and they will be aiming to make the most of their home advantage. From our perspective, we want to hit the ground running,” said Tohill.
He will lean on players like Tommy Walsh, Tadgh Kennelly, Colm Begley and Pearce Hanley who have experience of Australian Rules football while others such as Steven McDonnell, Ciaran McKeever, Stephen Cluxton, Michael Murphy and Kevin Reilly will be expected to bring their familiarity with the International Rules code into play.
Reilly indeed is adamant that the series could prove “more physical” this time round and that Ireland will relish this.
“We will be up for battle but within the rules,” warned Reilly.
Kevin McKernan (Down), Eamon Callaghan (Kildare), Finian Hanley (Galway), Joe McMahon (Tyrone) and Darren Hughes (Monaghan) are among players who can make a big impact in the series.
Australian skipper Brad Green, who played against Ireland in 2004 and 2010, is one of only four seasoned campaigners in the home squad, the others being James Kelly, Andrew Swallow and James Frawley.
They will be expected to give a lead and Green stressed last night that his side will be taking the Irish challenge very seriously.
“The Irish are as passionate as you can get,” he said.
“They're not coming over here to have a holiday and taste our Guinness. They're over here to take us on and win back the series,” added Green.
Eade has suggested that Australia could have an advantage in tackling but the Irish, with Armagh legend Kieran McGeeney calling the shots, have been working particularly hard on this aspect of their game in training.
McGeeney has driven home the message to the Ireland players that quick release of the ball is essential if scores are to be obtained.
Tomorrow, though, will tell if their training ground endeavours will bear fruit.