AFL back future of International Rules series

Calibre of player involved key to future success of series

(From left) David Moran, Aiden O’Shea, Colm O’Shea, Colm O’Neill and Niall Morgan arrive in Melbourne for Ireland’s International Rules Test series with Australia. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

(From left) David Moran, Aiden O’Shea, Colm O’Shea, Colm O’Neill and Niall Morgan arrive in Melbourne for Ireland’s International Rules Test series with Australia. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

 

The Ireland team arrived in Melbourne last night for Sunday’s practice match in the lead-up to next week’s Test in Perth, which may well be the last International Rules engagement with Australia.

It is questionable whether the one-match Test series agreed on for this year in an attempt to revive the internationals after a couple of disastrous years is a sustainable model for the future given amongst other considerations the GAA’s need to fund the away series through gate receipts when the Tests are in Ireland.

Speaking yesterday, AFL media relations manager Patrick Keane conceded that reducing the time commitment for their players had been a significant factor in securing the re-engagement of elite players within the Australian game.

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He disagreed this would make an away series in Ireland all but impossible.

“Everyone’s always enjoyed playing the big Tests at Croke Park – the one that got 80 and the two that 60 (thousand) – and would count them as among their best memories ever. The added time commitment is only 18 hours there and back so no.”

The two most recent series have been disappointing with Ireland winning both by massive margins largely because the AFL have sent such weak teams into action both here in 2011 and last year in Ireland.

Keane agrees: “The requirement after what happened last year was to get the best players playing or otherwise it just wasn’t going to work. We went to a group of the leading players at the start of the year, got their commitment and once we had that group on board others followed.

“Players have consistently said that they’ve enjoyed the experience of playing with other players they would never usually play with and playing a game that’s different, really fast and when played well, is incredible exciting to watch.”

The AFL official also identified other factors that have impacted on the series, including the expansion of the AFL and the knock-on effect on the availability of players in a shorter close season. “Players are basically just coming back to start training now after finishing their season in August or September so they’ve had eight to nine weeks off.”

An impediment

“I think it was the same with representative football between our states (Railway Cup equivalent), which hasn’t been a part of our game since 1999. We found that players were always happy to play once or twice but the idea of playing every year wasn’t appealing.”

Of equal importance is the interest level amongst the Australian public, which has dipped over the most recent series here. From an initial base line of attracting between an aggregate of 80,000 and 100,000 over two Tests, the 2011 series in Melbourne and Gold Coast pulled in just 35,466 between them. Keane says that the numbers are directly linked to the calibre of the players involved.

“We’ve always nearly sold out in Perth and had very good crowds in Adelaide. Melbourne has been up and down depending on the quality of the players.

“As soon as sides are at full strength, you’d be confident that crowds will be really good.”

The AFL hope to fill the stadium in Perth for the Test match tomorrow week (Saturday November 22nd).

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