GAA and AFL meet with future of International Rules series on the line
Next year’s Tests likely to be the last if Australians can’t strengthen selection
The Irish and Australian teams take to the pitch at Breffni Park last Saturday. The attendance of 17,657 was the lowest since 1998. Photograph: Getty Images
The GAA and AFL will meet later today to ascertain what future lies ahead for the International Rules series. The meeting will be attended by the GAA’s president Liam O’Neill, who has returned from a trip to the US, and director general Páraic Duffy as well as the AFL deputy chief executive Gillon McLachlan – chief executive Andrew Demetriou has not travelled with the team.
Midway through this year’s series the sense of crisis besetting the series hasn’t abated, as Ireland’s comfortable win over the all-indigenous AFL team in Cavan on Saturday has effectively killed this year’s renewal as a contest. The mood music wasn’t helped yesterday by reports of rowdy behaviour in the Australia team hotel, which necessitated some tough talking from manager Michael O’Loughlin.
Whereas the crowd in Breffni Park was reasonably atmospheric, it was, at 17,657, also the lowest attendance at an international match since the series resumed in 1998.
The impact on next Saturday’s second Test is expected to see potentially the lowest crowd for an international at Croke Park since that first modern series 16 years ago with estimates ranging from 50,000 at the optimistic end to 30,000.
Privately the GAA have no doubt where the blame lies. The failure of the Australians to field competitive teams in the past two series, the current one and the most recent in Australia, two years ago, has weakened the appeal of the game in both hemispheres.
In 2011, Duffy warned presciently that the meltdown in attendances at that year’s series in Melbourne and Gold Coast, 22,921 and 12,545, would have implications for the Tests in Ireland.
“ . . . the attendance is not a problem for us this year but if the numbers fall here I think inevitably they will start to fall in Ireland. That would cause an issue because if our attendances were to fall to a similar level we simply couldn’t afford it.
“We wouldn’t want to pay for this to any great degree out of normal GAA funding. It is cost neutral at the moment – at one stage it was profitable – but it’s pretty much cost neutral now. If it got to a stage because of falling attendances that we couldn’t afford it that would be a factor as well.”
Today’s meeting is likely to explore what sort of undertakings the AFL can provide in relation to the strength of future selections. Two years ago, the Australians slumped to a record series defeat and whereas the current side is an improvement it didn’t come close to threatening to win, as their 2010 predecessors did.
There is no threat to next year’s series, which was agreed as part of a two-year cycle with the current one. The GAA are believed to be anxious to recognise the efforts of manager Paul Earley and his players in preparing to a high standard for the current Tests by facilitating their participation in an away series.
As the costs of the tour are borne by the travelling team, the AFL are not expected to have any objections to 2014 going ahead. In the longer term however, the series will not survive another uncompetitive Australian side. Should they be able to agree the release of senior players with their AFL clubs on a continual basis, the Australians can revive the fortunes of the game.
In that case, the GAA are believed to be willing to look at reinstating the original frequency of the Tests on an annual basis rather than the current cycle of twice every three years. That would necessitate a tidying up of club schedules, which have crept farther into the autumn and begun to affect the international panel’s selection.