Australians talking up a more physical game in Croke Park

Aussie Matthew Stokes says he didn’t give up two weeks of holidays to lose series

 Mathew Stokes promised a more physical game in Croke Park on Saturday. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Mathew Stokes promised a more physical game in Croke Park on Saturday. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho


It may not be all over just yet. The Australians are talking up a more physical if not intimidating game and “if it flares up, then it flares up”. Now, if they show up in Croke Park on Saturday with as much enthusiasm perhaps the 22-point deficit won’t be as unassailable as it appears

Indeed Mathew Stokes suggests they’re done talking, and it’s time for some action – an attitude shared by team-mate Ashley McGrath. Speaking at the Australian team hotel in Dublin, both players deftly articulated what went wrong in the first International Rules Test in Cavan last Saturday, and why things will be different in Croke Park.

“We didn’t come over here to lose,” said Stokes, “and I sure didn’t give up my two weeks of holidays to lose. I am a competitive person and extremely disappointed by the way we played. I think we are done talking, to be honest. We just want to go out there on Saturday and prove it with actions.

‘Lack of intensity’
“But our lack of intensity was the biggest disappointment. Because it’s extremely disappointing when a team that doesn’t tackle for a living out-tackled us in the first half.”

McGrath agreed that “to have the Irish boys come out and pressure us more than we pressured them was really disappointing”.

“It is something we pride ourselves, in AFL, on doing all the little things with pressure,” said Ashley, their designated goalkeeper. “At half-time a few home truths were told. To the boys’ credit, I think the turning point in the game was Chrissy Yarran’s chase-down tackle. It really changed the game, lifted everyone, and we were able to get ourselves back in it.”

Can they chase down the 22-point deficit? “We believe we can,” said Ashley. “It just comes down to effort and intensity. You could see in the second half, when we lifted that, we were able to drag ourselves back from I think it was a 23-point deficit and if Stevie Motlop had kicked that under, it would have been three points (deficit). So if we bring our intensity and tackling and pressure, and get the Irish boys to turn the ball over, I think we’ve a good chance.”

More physicality
Both players agreed with Ireland and former AFL player Colm Begley’s suggestion earlier this week that the series is crying out for more physicality – albeit within the rules: allowing players to “shepherd” their opposition would certainly help, although discipline is still crucial for the series to survive.

“Well, ‘Begsy’ is good at talking,” said McGrath. “We’re going to go out to play hard, tackle as hard as we can. If things happen, and it flares up, then it flares up. But we are not going to go out there to throw any punches. We are going to do it through our tackling pressure. We did that in the third quarter, and the Irish boys started to kick the ball out of bounds and miss their kicks. We know if we go out there and tackle hard and pressure hard, then the ball is in our court.”

Within the rules
Stokes promised more physicality too, but again within the rules: “I think our game is built on being physical, trying to intimidate players and get players good shepherds and hard tackles. We’d love to be able to do it. But at the moment the rules are that we aren’t allowed to. But we got warned before the series that if there was any of that you’d get yellow or red cards and the last thing I want to do is come all the way from Australia, play a game here and get yellow-carded and let my team-mates down. I’m not prepared to do that.”

Both players also agreed that as representatives of the first all-aboriginal touring team in 150 years they were playing for pride on Saturday, as much as anything else: “We spoke about that, a great deal, and I think that is what made the first half so disappointing,” said Stokes.

Stokes, however, also questioned whether the all indigenous team could work again: “No, I don’t think it’s something that can happen every year.”

As for reports of some unruly behaviour on a visit to Clare last weekend, following their 57-35 defeat, Stokes merely accepted responsibility and that they’ve “moved on”: “There was a little bit of an issue, but there were a few false things reported.”