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Ireland to take frustrations out on Australia in International Rules

By Martin Breheny

You watch them in training and you wonder how devastating they would be in a Gaelic football full-forward line.

There's Steven McDonnell, Kieran Donaghy and Michael Meehan stretched across the pitch, all encouraging each other in different accents while running intelligent angles and popping scores with delightful ease.

But then marking is loose on a warm October night in the Subiaco Oval. It will be all so different tomorrow when the heavy hooves of tough Australians bear down every avenue.

Sean Boylan has yet to announce his team so we don't know if McDonnell, Donaghy and Meehan will comprise the full-forward line although it's certain that all three will get plenty of game time. McDonnell is Ireland's record International Rules points scorer; Donaghy's size, fetching skills and quick hands make him ideal for the game and while Meehan didn't enjoy the most fruitful of series in 2005, he has such natural skills that he could be one of the real success stories this time.

He's coming off a good year on a personal level but like 22 others on this tour, the season will close with memories of what might have been on the home scene. Joe and Justin McMahon, Enda McGinley and Sean Cavanagh are the only international players who will recall 2008 with maximum satisfaction as they still bask in the comfortable glow which bathes All-Ireland champions.

For all the rest, it's a matter of doing their international business before returning home and beginning to look towards next year. Tyrone's All-Ireland success over Kerry has changed the dynamic somewhat since so many people believed that the three-in-a-row was on its way south. Now, the power pendulum has swung north.

Meehan admits that he thought Kerry would win the All-Ireland, a judgement based on their form from mid-July on which included a high-class performance against Galway.

"I was expecting Kerry to win the final but in fairness to Tyrone they played brilliantly. They have raised the bar again and that's the level the rest of us must aim at. We were looking at Kerry as the bench mark and trying to get to their level but that isn't enough anymore," he said.

He regards Galway's year as a work in progress, one where they pushed on from previous years only to run aground against Kerry.

"We did a lot of things right but it wasn't enough in the end. We're going to have to work harder to get near the likes of Tyrone and Kerry — it's as simple as that," he said.

Monaghan are another team with ambitions of closing the gap between themselves and the elite few next year, a target which Paul Finlay believes is achieveable. Finlay is enjoying the unique international experience but still has his sights very much on Monaghan's course in 2009.

"We've made good progress over the past few years without making the big breakthrough. It's important now that we press on and win something. It's getting harder all the time because new teams are emerging so you have to improve from year to year.

"Our challenge is to do better than we've done so far. It's a very fine line between success and failure at the top level -- hopefully we can get that little extra which will push us over it next year," he said.

Meanwhile, there's important business to be taken care of in Perth and Melbourne.

Meehan believes Ireland will have to play a really smart game to outwit the Australians.

"We have to be a lot cuter and not try to take the ball through tackles because the Australians will just rip you to the ground. We need to get our passing right and when the chances come we have to take any many of those three-pointers as we possibly can."

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