Lack of physicality killing series, admits Colm Begley

‘I don’t see the problem in two players going at it, toe-to-toe’, says Laois footballer

Ireland’s Colm Begley at yesterday’s International Rules Series  press conference in  Croke Park. Photograph:  Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Ireland’s Colm Begley at yesterday’s International Rules Series press conference in Croke Park. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Wed, Oct 23, 2013, 01:00

He stopped short of calling for the old “gloves off” scenario and yet Colm Begley admits the lack of full and proper physicality is killing the International Rules series with Australia.

With the Irish team carrying a 22-point lead into Saturday’s second Test in Croke Park, the Australians are unlikely to turn the series in their favour, no matter what tactics they employ, and yet Begley sees the need for some further compromise if the game is to survive.

“There is fierce passion and fierce pride in both teams,” says Begley. “I don’t see the problem in two players going at it, toe-to-toe, and having a bit of push and shove. That’s all part of this game. And it should be. And it gets the crowd going. People see the passion and they get involved in that as well. So I think that needs to be brought back in. “Look, in 2006, it went overboard, but maybe it has been pulled back too much. I think they need to let that back into the game. It was pushed to the side after 2006, when it went a bit crazy, a bit mad. But it’s been done too much.”

Experienced both codes
Begley has experienced both codes: now back playing intercounty football with his native Laois, having spent a couple of seasons in the AFL with the Brisbane Lions, he looks back on Saturday’s opening Test in Cavan and recalls a largely tame – if not lame – affair.

“It comes from us, the players, and the crowd as well. In fairness to Cavan, the game itself was probably the fault of the two teams. It wasn’t sharp enough on both sides and we need to lift that. But in 2006, I think it was blown out of proportion a little, looked worse than it was.

“Out of order things did happen, but the shepherd rule was taken out. I don’t mind the shepherd. It involves a player taking himself out of the game to help his team-mate. And done within the rules it’s shoulder to shoulder. It brings in the bigger hits, whereas at the moment you just can’t bump someone off the ball, when one of your team-mates is going for it. I think that is one rule, in our game, if it’s refereed right, is a good rule, and can bring that bit of intensity into the game.

“You saw when (Lance) Franklin knocked over Ciaran Kilkenny. That got the biggest roar of the game, in essence. It lifted the crowd a small bit, and in fairness it lifted the players, too. I think it needs to be brought back into it, because if the Aussies’ skills are down, or below par for a match, the one thing they always have is they’re very, very athletic and very physical.”

Representatives from the GAA and AFL met in Dublin yesterday evening to discuss what future lies ahead for the series.

The meeting was attended by the GAA’s president Liam O’Neill and director general Páraic Duffy as well as the AFL deputy chief executive Gillon McLachlan. While Saturday’s second Test is poised to attract 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), it’s the apparent failure of the Australians to field competitive teams in the past two series that has weakened the appeal of the game, in both hemispheres.

Future selections
Central to the discussion, therefore, was what sort of undertakings the AFL can provide in relation to the strength of future selections. There may need to be agreement for the release of senior players with their AFL clubs, although there doesn’t appear to be any immediate threat to next year’s series, which was agreed as part of a two-year cycle with the current one, and as the costs of the tour are borne by the travelling team, the AFL are unlikely to have any objections to 2014 going ahead.