Below-par Ireland just about hang on


INTERNATIONAL RULES Ireland (1-8-10) 40 Australia (0-14-5) 47:IRELAND WILL be relieved the International Rules series is still alive after Saturday night’s first Test here in Limerick, but manager Anthony Tohill and his team were far from happy with a flat, below-par performance.

They will know a seismic improvement must materialise if the Cormac McAnallen Cup isn’t going to be checked in at Dublin airport next week.

Under consistent pressure from a clearly superior Australia, Ireland struggled in nearly all facets of the game and provided further evidence of the broadening disparity between the countries’ respective abilities to kick “overs”, the three-point score that corresponds to points in football.

Despite their lack of familiarity with the round ball the visitors outscored Ireland by 14 overs to eight, and, just as embarrassingly, the home side recorded twice as many (10-5) “behinds”, the one-point score that exists to reward the Australians for near misses but which to most GAA people simply signifies a wide.

For further illustration, Australia scored six overs from play throughout the 72 minutes; Ireland managed just one, in the dying minutes, from Down defender Kevin McKernan.

The visitors’ principal advantages were the quality of their support play and the options it gave them in possession, their facility with the round ball – it was into the second half before they kicked a behind – and the way in which their big names delivered, from goalkeeper Dustin Fletcher, who dominated the speculative dropping ball attacks and distributed efficiently from the back, to captain Adam Goodes, who top-scored on the evening and posed a threat in the air every time a ball arrived in Irish airspace.

By contrast, Ireland’s big guns didn’t fire as devastatingly. Seán Cavanagh, superb as captain two years ago, worked tirelessly but was missing the spark that turned his efforts into gold back then – putting four of his five scores between the outer posts rather than over the bar.

His successor as captain, Steven McDonnell, had a 2:2 ratio, a return Ireland’s all-time top scorer would have hoped to improve.

Tactically the home side were ponderous, and although flashes of ground football got them out of immediate trouble in pressure situations it unlocked the Australian defence. The visitors had more composure and inventiveness going forward.

In a perfect snapshot of the match, in the 62nd minute Ireland, under pressure, coughed up possession in their half – Ciarán McKeever slipped while trying to retrieve a misplaced pass – and Dane Swan, one of the AFL’s top players this season and the visitors’ busiest contributor on the night, robbed the ball and delivered a precise chip into the onrushing Goodes, who instead of stretching for the mark dived to make a super fisted contact.

The ball detonated off the crossbar and rebounded over for three points, but the move deserved a goal, notwithstanding that it would have sent the series to Croke Park in a hearse instead of an ambulance.

The ability of Australia to work the ball quickly and effectively into scoring zones and clinically execute the opportunities created contrasted with Ireland’s difficulty in moving possession with sufficient pace and accuracy to open up the defence.

Ironically it was only with calamity in the air in the closing minutes that the home team abandoned the cautious deliberation of securing ball and trying to protect possession and instead began to run at the Australian defence with a degree of abandon (or panic).

Up until then the visitors had been rock solid at the back, staying close to their opponents and denying them the sort of space within which goals have been conjured up in the past.

The golden thread by which the series still hangs as a contest came about because Leighton Glynn, who came close to his form of 2008 but unsurprisingly found the tighter marking harder to negotiate, popped a quick mark to Bernard Brogan, who ran a direct line through the centre of the defence.

The Footballer of the Year made what ground he could before launching an unstoppable drive from about 20 metres into the right corner of the net.

It must have been immensely frustrating for the Ireland management to review those closing minutes, because after Brogan’s goal there were four clear opportunities to kick overs.

McKernan availed of his, but McDonnell and Tommy Walsh could only register behinds, whereas Michael Murphy blazed wide – a pure wide, beyond even the limited consolation of one point. Had they all been converted the series would now be level.

But the trajectory of Australia’s superiority was steady all the way up until the closing six minutes. The visitors led by expanding margins at the end of each of the first three quarters, 12-9, 21-16 and 32-22.

IRELAND: 1. S Cluxton (Dublin); 16. C McKeever (Armagh), 10. F Hanley (Galway), 7. B Donaghy (Armagh); 14. S McDermott (Roscommon), 4. G Canty (Cork), 20. K Reilly (Meath); 2. C Begley (Laois), 13. T Kennelly (Kerry and Sydney Swans); 8. L Glynn (Wicklow), 15. S McDonnell (Armagh – capt), 5. S Cavanagh; 3. B Brogan (Dublin), 22. T Walsh (Kerry and St Kilda), 6. M Clarke (Down). Interchange: 9. D Goulding (Cork), 11. J Kavanagh (Kildare), 12. P Keenan (Louth), 18. B Murphy (Carlow), 19. M Murphy (Donegal), 23. E Bolton (Kildare), 29. N McNamee (Offaly).

Scorers: Brogan 9 (1-1-0), McDonnell 8 (0-2-2), Cavanagh 7 (0-1-4), Walsh 4 (0-1-1), Goulding 3 (0-1-0), Glynn 3 (0-1-0), McKernan 3 (0-1-0), Kennelly 1 (0-0-1), Reilly 1 (0-0-1), Clarke 1 (0-0-1).

AUSTRALIA: D Fletcher (Essendon); 41. P Duffield (Fremantle), 7. J Frawley (Melbourne), 6. K Simpson (Carlton); 2. Bryce Gibbs (Carlton), 9. G Ibbotson (Fremantle), 12. T Goldsack (Collingwood); 5. M Boyd (Western Bulldogs), 36. D Swan (Collingwood); 42. L Picken (Carlton), 37. A Goodes (Sydney Swans – capt), 3. J McVeigh (Sydney Swans); 19. E Betts (Carlton), 8. J Riewoldt (Richmond), 18. B Green (Melbourne). Interchange: 1. T Varcoe (Geelong), 4. D Cross (Western Bulldogs), 11. L Montagna (St Kilda), 15. K Jack (Sydney Swans), 17. T Banfield (Brisbane Lions), 32. P Dangerfield (Adelaide Crows) 40. D Wojcinski (Geelong).

Scorers: Goodes 12 (0-4-0), Banfield 6 (0-2-0), Montagna 6 (0-2-0), Cross 6 (0-2-0), Betts 6 (0-2-0), Frawley 3 (0-1-0), Dangerfield 3 (0-1-0), Boyd 2 (0-0-2), Simpson 2 (0-0-2), Jack 1 (0-0-1).

Referees: D Coldrick(GAA) and B Rosebury(AFL).