Ireland hold 22-point lead going into next week’s final Test at Croke Park
Late points a little harsh on the Australian comeback
Zach Touhy of Ireland celebrates scoring his side’s first goal with Ross Munnelly. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho
IRELAND 57 AUSTRALIA 35
It’s the way of the international rules series these days that the actual matches have been overtaken as talking points by the existential concerns that hover over the future of the game. That hasn’t changed after Ireland’s largely untroubled victory in Saturday night’s first test in Kingspan Breffni Park.
Australia took too long to settle and although they hit back impressively in the third quarter, Ireland held them out and re-asserted their control towards the end of the final quarter to bank a 22-point lead going into next weekend’s second test in Croke Park.
The visitors’ policy of selecting en masse the AFL Indigenous All Stars didn’t pay off, as the cohesion and team unity (the selection played had played together in an exhibition match at home earlier this year) engendered by the initiative didn’t outweigh the players’ inexperience and the customary problems caused by being unfamiliar with the round ball.
The easy explanation that not all of their best players are suited to the international game shouldn’t obscure the hardly surprising precedent that the best Australian teams are those containing the biggest names from the AFL. On Saturday night for instance Lance Franklin - one of the most prominent players Down Under and who has recently made a big money move to Sydney - had a big impact but isn’t scheduled to be around for Saturday, as he is committed to a friend’s wedding.
Adding to the problems for Australia was the strangely slipshod situation in which they travelled with only 21 players, two short of a full match-day squad, and manager Michael O’Loughlin’s attempts to explain this away by saying that their attitude and work-rate were more important than the numbers was unconvincing.
For the first time in a series Ireland also had a physical advantage, enabling the home side to trump their opponents in two of the traditional areas of Australian advantage, competing in the air and the physical exchanges. O’Loughlin referred for instance to the home side’s ability to break tackles.
AFL teams generally take time to warm up and in Saturday’s first half Ireland were dominant. Captain, Michael Murphy got the scores rolling in the first quarter with a couple of overs (equivalent of a GAA point and worth three) and took a spectacular mark in the ninth minute (unfortunately he spoiled the effect by kicking away the possession). Murphy’s well-publicised club final yesterday didn’t appear to be inhibiting him and his manager Paul Earley ended up lamenting how his team had failed to bring the big Donegal forward into the game in the second half.