Australia determined to redeem last week’s International Rules defeat
Ongoing talks between the GAA and AFL will determine whether tonight will be the final Test
Ireland’s Ciarán Sheehan shrugs off the challenge of Christopher Yarran in last week’s game in Breffni Park.
This evening’s concluding Test of the International Rules series at Croke Park will be the last held in Ireland if upcoming talks to rescue the game aren’t successful. Ireland lead by 22 after a convincing win in Cavan last week and although the bigger pitch and faster surface is expected to suit Australia this evening, personnel changes appear to strengthen the home team.
Ireland manager Paul Earley has been able to replace his unavailable players from last week with Finian Hanley injured and Aidan O’Shea opting out to concentrate on tomorrow’s Mayo county final whereas his counterpart Michael O’Loughlin has lost his panel’s biggest name, Lance Franklin, and been unable to bring in any replacement. As a result Australia will have only five inter-change players as opposed to the permitted eight.
It was clear at yesterday’s media conference that O’Loughlin was still smarting from the poor display by his team in Cavan where they only really swung into action for one of the four quarters. The Australia manager kept emphasising ‘effort’ in his responses to questions and said he was “confident that it will be a better performing Australian side than last week”.
He dismissed the idea that the Australians would fall back on the Plan B of 2006 and ‘04, the two most recent series in Ireland when they trailed going into the second Test: starting a fight as soon as possible.
“For me as a player and a coach, going out and throwing punches is not tough. Putting your head over the footy and making tackles when you need to, that’s in our make-up and that’s the way I’ve always coached and always played. I absolutely won’t be putting up with any undisciplined acts. It’s not what I’m about.”
Earley was wary of the likely football response from the AFL team. “I think they’ve had a hard press and that will galvanise them and listening to Michael and Daniel (Wells, captain) that’s the case and we expect a ferocious battle from the word go.
“I suppose the expectation is that the travelling team will get better because they’ve been together for the week. I don’t always buy into that because it’s about the quality of work as well. There were certain aspects of the game last week that we did well in and certain aspects we can improve in as well.”
Ireland are lucky to be able to call on replacements of the calibre of Ciarán McKeever, who was vice-captain in Australia two years ago and the central influence in defence. Kildare veteran John Doyle also comes in, making his debut in the series, and his ability in the air and ability to kick accurately can be a significant asset.
Overall, though, the downbeat mood surrounding the series is unlikely to lift with the smallest Croke Park crowd in 15 years anticipated. GAA officials were estimating around 35,000, considerably down on the 61,842 that attended the last Test here, three years ago.
The AFL announced yesterday that they had had constructive talks with the GAA at the organisations’ meeting on Tuesday last and that there would be further discussions with a view to strengthening the future of the internationals.
It’s likely that next year’s series in Australia will go ahead even though AFL Operations Manager Mark Evans declined to confirm anything in advance of the ongoing talks, saying: “I know the GAA have expressed their desire to look at options for next year.
“We talked about potential venues if we can get it going but it will come back to the AFL holding up its side of the bargain and getting the commitment of the best players to play the game.”
Evans also revealed that the talks had covered the possibility of improving the Australian teams by reverting to the policy of selecting the All-Australian award winners (equivalent of the All Stars) and amending the rules to allow some role for the AFL’s bigger players who have been left behind by the decline in aerial contests and speed of movement in the recent series.