Ireland in for ‘very tough’ Test, says Nicholas Walsh

Australian selection for Saturday full of elite players

There are very few in the Ireland set-up with as long an acquaintance with International Rules as conditioning coach Nicholas Walsh. As a teenager and Cavan minor in 1999 he captained Ireland in the now discontinued junior series against the AFL Academy in Australia.

Having signed for Melbourne Demons, his AFL career was still-born because of a run of injuries but he assisted Ireland manager Brian McEniff in the 2001 series in Australia, to advise on interchange.

A year later, he was named as a stand-by by then manager John O’Keeffe and although included in the panel for the first Test, he didn’t get to play.

Walsh came home in 2003 and played with his county and club Cavan Gaels, a career again disrupted by injury, until at the end of 2011 having kept in touch with the Australian game, he was offered a chance to work on the coaching staff at the new Greater Western Sydney Giants.

“I’m entering my fourth year [working with GWS Giants],” he says. “I was generally strength and conditioning up to this year but I’ve moved more into coaching and development. My role over the next few years will be working those first to third year players.

“I’m going to be coaching some of the backline as well. My goal would be to become an assistant coach or the like somewhere down the line.

“I want to go down the coaching route rather than sports science route.”

Backroom team

In the meantime he’s part of the Ireland backroom team, as they hope to become the first country since the modern resumption of the series to win three consecutive series.

That of course is part of the problem for the international project. So poor has been the Australian challenge that the future of the series appears to be permanently on life support.

This year the AFL has put together a very strong team for the first time in four years and Walsh says it has been a talking point for the first time in a while: “It has got a lot more coverage this year in the papers, the websites and on social media. When you put your best players out there, that’s what attracts the people to it.

“It’s the same with the Irish players; when the top lads come over here, the Irish people will go to see them.

“We played an indigenous [AFL] team last year and a lot of people felt it wasn’t their best team but it was something the AFL were trying. This year we’re playing against some very good players, real stars who are winning best and fairest in their own clubs, so it’s going to be a very tough Test in Perth.”

After the heavy beating handed out to the Australians last year the rules were adjusted to redress perceived imbalances in the game and also to make the internationals more appealing to the top AFL players.

If that was an issue, the solution appears to have worked as the Australian selection for Saturday is full of elite players.

Walsh however, in common with Ireland manager Paul Earley, sees last year's rules as being inadequately tested.

“I didn’t think there was anything wrong with the rules as they were. The issue last year was that they weren’t playing their best players.”

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