Australians make their mark

 

It's just as well the Coca-Cola International Rules series was renewed for a further four years last Friday. Looking at yesterday's second test at Croke Park and the scale of Australia's dominance, it would have been harder to get as enthusiastic about the longer term.

Ireland have a lot of work to do to regain competitiveness let alone the trophy they had held since the resumption of the series two years ago.

Although Footballer of the Year-elect Seamus Moynihan was back in the side, Ireland suffered the loss of both Glenn Ryan and Ciaran Whelan to club matches on Saturday when they picked up injuries.

There were two stark facts underlying Ireland's poorest performance in a long time. First, the home team's kicking was appalling both in terms of scoring and distribution.

Second, defensive marking and tracking were awful, allowing Australian players to slip into unmarked positions and take unchallenged possession.

Although it was always unlikely that Ireland would overhaul the eight-point deficit from the first test, few expected the matter to be finished and disposed of by the end of the first quarter.

Australia started so well and Ireland so dismally that, after the first 20 minutes, the visitors led 20-6 and had pushed their aggregate lead to 22.

From then on, Ireland were dead in the water. By half-time the lead was nearly 30 points and the prospect of utter humiliation had begun to dawn on queasy minds in the record attendance of 57,289.

Ireland recovered somewhat in the last two quarters, but there was the distinct impression by then that Australia hadn't so much taken their foot off the pedal as removed the pedal altogether.

Given that goals were supposed to be Ireland's route to salvation, the events of the second quarter were emblematic of Australia's total superiority. In the 26th minute, the visitors were leading by 23-10 when Michael O'Loughlin, who gave a super display at corner forward, found himself completely unmarked.

In a manner that had eluded both Graham Geraghty and Peter Canavan for Ireland, the Sydney Swans player side-stepped Cormac Sullivan in the Irish goal and kicked to an empty net.

Six minutes later, Ireland contrived a response, largely through the work of Anthony Tohill who burst along the Hill 16 endline and played the ball across for Eoin Gormley to take and drill a goal.

Whatever chance this had of galvanising Ireland evaporated when, straight from the restart, James Hird dropped an inviting ball on top of the Irish goal for Justin Leppitsch to fist to the net.

That concluded the goal scoring for the match. So even with Ireland's choice of weapons, Australia were superior. As a postscript, one of Ireland's best hopes of goalscoring, Peter Canavan, was sent off along with his deranged marker Jason Akermanis for their part in an ill-tempered scrap which broke out as the teams left the field at halftime.

Canavan was unlucky in that, for the second series running, he had been singled out for blackguarding and received little enough protection from the match officials. Players should be disciplined enough not to fall into the retaliation trap, but that will only apply if they can depend on referees to enforce the rules.

The match was a depressing sight for GAA officials. A man from outer space would have been hard put to point out which team was more familiar with the round ball.

In fact, a man from outer space might have been as familiar with one as the Irish players appeared at times. Inaccurate kicking and poor decision-making blighted attempts to get decent attacking moves in train.

The better Irish players were forced to flog themselves all around the field. Anthony Tohill played deep, in attack and at centrefield.

Seamus Moynihan, after a week taking the Sam Maguire around Kerry, was back and played exceptionally well, but, without adequate back-up, couldn't swing the match on his own.

Ireland increased the pressure in the third and final quarters but became goal-crazy quite early in proceedings. That hardly made a difference to the outcome, but a few clinically taken overs would have reduced the scale of the defeat.

The players of the series were announced last night. Ireland goalkeeper Cormac Sullivan won the medal for the home side with Australia captain James Hird winning his side's accolade.

Ireland: C Sullivan (Meath); F Cullen (Offaly), D Fay (Meath), SM Lockhart (Derry); S de Paor (Galway), O Sexton (Cork), A Rainbow (Kildare); S Moynihan (Kerry), A Tohill (Derry); P Joyce (Galway), T Giles (Meath, capt), D Earley (Kildare); L Reilly (Cavan), G Geraghty (Meath), P Canavan (Tyrone). INTER-CHANGE: G Cavlan (Tyrone), M Crossan (Donegal), E Gormley (Tyrone), K McGeeney (Armagh), P McGrane (Armagh), C McManus (Offaly), C McManamon (Mayo), B Stynes (Dublin).

Australia: A Kellaway; J Akermanis, D Hardwick, C Heffernan; J Hird (c), B Johnson, R Smith; T Croad, S West; S Woewodin, L Power, C Bradley; M O'Loughlin, J Leppitsch, A McLeod. Inter-change: M Ricciuto, J Blumfield, B Ratten, A Yze, S King, B Caracella, D King, S Goodwin.