The GAA have not been approached officially or informally by the AFL about the possibility that this year’s international rules series could be contested by a team exclusively composed of indigenous footballers.
According to the AFL website, the idea surfaced on Australian television yesterday when AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou told Channel Nine's Footy Show : "Yes, it is one of the options we are now considering. We have canvassed the views of indigenous players."
He added that the Australian football authorities hadn’t discussed the matter with their Irish counterparts.
Pat Daly, Croke Park's director of games development and research who is also the principal technical liaison with the AFL in respect of the international series, confirmed that the initiative hadn't been floated over here in advance of next October's series but that the question of an indigenous Australian team had arisen in another context.
“The involvement of an indigenous Australian team has been under consideration in the context of a cultural event, which the GAA are looking at holding in Sydney. The whole concept of international rules is very much rooted in sporting culture and heritage and recognising indigenous players would obviously be in keeping with that.
“But look, we’ve heard nothing about this in relation to senior internationals so we’re not in a position to comment on it.”
A similar weekend of cultural events was organised in Ennis last October around the staging of the hurling-shinty international series against Scotland.
Waning public interest
Although nothing has been concluded in Australia the floating of the idea has come against the backdrop of waning public interest in the internationals Down Under.
Attendances at the series in Australia have been in decline for the past 10 years. From a position where aggregate crowds of over 100,000 attended the two Tests in Perth and Melbourne in 2003, the numbers fell by almost two thirds to 35,466 when the series was last played there, in Melbourne and the Gold Coast, two years ago.
The primary problem then was that the home challenge was very poor with Ireland winning both Tests overwhelmingly. Interestingly Australia's biggest win in 2005 came about as a result of a selection, featuring an emphasis on indigenous footballers, whose speed and ball skills then coach Kevin Sheedy believed would be ideally suited to the game.
It’s not clear what the impact would be on the series in Ireland if the Australian team is perceived not to be representative of all of the best players in the AFL.
GAA director general Páraic Duffy said in Melbourne in 2011 that the series would not have a future unless interest amongst the AFL public picked up because Irish crowds wouldn't continue to attend in numbers if it became clear that there was no longer reciprocal interest:
"When you have only two countries involved in a competition and in one attendance figures suggest a certain apathy, it does certainly raise questions long term."
The AFL website also reports that this year's series will be played as a tribute to former Dublin minor All-Ireland winner and Melbourne Brownlow medallist, the late Jim Stynes, who played international rules for both countries and after whom the medal for the best AFL player over the two Tests is named.
Daly also confirmed that the standing committee on the playing rules, of which he is the secretary, would not be deliberating on further rule changes for the foreseeable future – unless an emergency were to arise.
“The proposals of the football review committee accepted for introduction next year are in the pipeline and until we’ve had a chance to see how they bed in, there’s unlikely to be any further proposals.
“In relation to hurling we’ve had the findings in recent years of the hurling rules committee chaired by Simon Moroney that there were no major issues that needed addressing as well as the standing committee, which pretty much decided the same thing.
“One of the big arguments for the FRC proposals was based on them having nothing to do with hurling because those involved in hurling were strongly of the view that the game didn’t require rule changes. So that’s the situation at the moment unless something unexpected arises.”