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International Rules: Will the crowds flock like they once did?

The biggest crowds at the games came in the revived concept between 1999 and 2006

Ryan Crowley of Australia and Paul Barden during the second test in 2006. Irish players were attacked before the throw-in and the first quarter was stunningly violent. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

It is symptomatic of the stop-start nature of more recent International Rules series that the biggest crowds to attend the games came in the earlier stages of the revived concept between 1999 and 2006. After two one-test events in the most recent years, 2015 and 2014, this year reverts to two matches. They will be played in Adelaide next Sunday, November 12th, and the second test in Perth the following Saturday. AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan has been saying that he hopes for 40,000 in Adelaide, whereas three years ago a one-off test was attended by nearly 40,000 in Perth.

1. 2006, second test, Croke Park, 82,127

Ireland 31 Australia 69

It is an irony that the record crowd to have attended a test marked a high point of the series from which the Internationals have never fully recovered. Having lost to a late Ireland rally in the first test in Galway, Australia turned up the heat in every way. Irish players were attacked before the throw-in and the first quarter was stunningly violent. Meath’s Graham Geraghty had been threatened during the week after the Galway test and had to be stretchered off after being tackled by Danyle Pearce. Australia won easily. In the controversy that followed, the series stopped being played every year.

2.2002, second test, Croke Park, 71,552

Ireland 42 Australia 42

Bad weather stopped the attendance from getting any larger. By the day of the match, 77,500 tickets had been sold but many didn’t turn up because of the awful conditions. These two years – this and 2003 – were probably the most compelling contests with both series going right down the final siren. Ireland trailed from the first test but launched a spirited comeback and were nearly able to overhaul the seven-point deficit from the first test. However, a crucial free at the end enabled Australia to level it and take the series with a win and a draw.

3. 1999, first test, Melbourne Cricket Ground, 64,236

Australia 62 Ireland 70

When the series revived in 1998 it was accepted that public interest in Australia would have to engage more enthusiastically than it had during the early tests in 1986 and 1990. This year was the first opportunity to gauge that and there was talk that if the crowds didn’t hit 30,000 the series was in trouble. Double that number turned up in Melbourne for an exciting and well contested test, at the end of which Jarlath Fallon’s well-taken goal gave the visitors a decisive eight-point lead. The second test in Adelaide ended in a draw and Ireland won the series.

4. 2010, second test, Croke Park, 61,842

Australia 55 Ireland 52

A late goal from Bernard Brogan had given Ireland some hope in the first test in Limerick that year, closing the margin to a still tricky seven. It was a very good Australia team with some of the biggest names from the AFL, such as future Brownlow medallist and AFL player of the series Dane Swan and team captain Adam Goodes. The crowd was surprisingly large and set a mark that hasn’t been surpassed in the seven years since.

5. 2004, second test, Croke Park, 60,515

Ireland 55 Australia 41

In a way this was the genesis of the series’ difficulties. A poor Australian team, beaten by 36 in the first test, targeted their opponents before the throw-in – selecting two of the home side’s best performers from the previous week Ciarán McDonald from Mayo and Cork’s Seán Ó hAilpín. No disciplinary action was taken afterwards and violent misbehaviour became a feature of the next two series. Australia were a little more competitive and notwithstanding the fact that the series was effectively over, a big crowd came out for the second test.

6. 2003, second test, Melbourne Cricket Ground, 60,235

Australia 45 Ireland 45

On a memorable weekend for Irish sports followers, this second test was played the night before the Australia-Ireland rugby World Cup match in Melbourne’s Telstra Dome, and actually drew a bigger attendance. Ireland had lost by 10 in the first test in Perth, but recovered so well that at stages it looked as if they could retrieve the series. It was the second year that the series had gone all the way down to the end of the second test, but attendances in Australia haven’t got near this mark in the meantime.