Miracle recovery puts international rules series back on track

With GAA and Australian Football League again in harmony games on threshold of new era

In an impressive, death-bed recovery the international rules series looks set to return to being staged annually. After the indignities of recent years, last weekend’s test match in Perth more or less fulfilled all of the objectives required to give the series another chance.

As usual, when the Australian Football League (AFL) get behind the international project in Australia, it succeeds. A top-class team featuring the best Australian players and a decent promotional campaign brought out the crowds.

There were other boxes to be ticked and at times the chances of a satisfactory outcome looked remote. The question of discipline mercifully never arose and that was consistent with the mood music during the week, when the Australians appeared to be going out of their way to dismiss any suggestions that they would resort to physical intimidation.

They were true to their word even though the friction levels rose in the second half. Many of the behavioural issues originate in the attitude of individual coaches and the series was well served by Alastair Clarkson, who kept the emphasis on football all week.

As is usually the case with an accomplished AFL side, they were comfortable on the ball and throughout the first half looked like they were going to hand down one of those beatings that would create problems for the future of the vulnerable series.

Ireland’s recovery was important in establishing that the GAA teams can compete with the very best in Australia, a vital consideration as it now looks certain that any stable long- term future will rely on the AFL being able to persuade their top players to participate on a regular basis.

Upshot

The upshot of the match was that whereas Australia captured the Cormac McAnallen trophy for the first time in four years and for the first time in a home series since 2005, the event gave GAA director general

Páraic Duffy

and AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan something tangible to work with during their discussions.

McLachlan's arrival as chief executive is viewed as a godsend by Croke Park. His predecessor Andrew Demetriou had grown remote from the international series and his penchant for solo runs, such as the decision to send a team to Ireland last year confined to indigenous players, caused great irritation in Dublin.

McLachlan, from a patrician family in South Australia with strong football connections, is a supporter of the series and engages well with the GAA.

Duffy’s announcement yesterday that the the gap year in the series – would be reconsidered with a view to hosting a return series in Croke Park in 12 months’ time indicates that the internationals are on the threshold of a new era.

The gap year was introduced in 2007 because of Australian on-field indiscipline in 2006 and 2005 and regularised in 2009 and 2012, and has been a major influence in the concept’s decline

Duffy believes November is a better time of the year for both countries and that there would be less interference with the club calendar.

“This is the end of a cycle now,” Duffy told media in Perth. “We had to go back to central council when this series was over to see where we’re going, but I think after yesterday it’s a much easier discussion than it would have been after last year.”

Asked would the proposal be for one test, in line with this year’s reduction from the previous scheduling of two matches per series, the director general said that no decision had yet been made on that.

“No, not necessarily. It could be two games, but looking at the experience of yesterday when they really marketed the game well, it worked very well and maybe, if we had one game in Ireland next year when you threw everything into it in Croke Park, I think after yesterday you could be back to the days of full houses.

“But no, we didn’t make any decision but broadly speaking we’re all very positive about it, and . . . they’re very positive about wanting to come to Ireland next year. We want it to happen but we have to get clearance from central council.”

Dissonance

The only dissonance to enter the discussions appears to be the AFL’s enthusiasm for staging a test in New York or

Boston

. The GAA – from manager

Paul Earley

, whose two-year appointment is now complete, to president Liam O’Neill and Duffy – have been more lukewarm on the subject.

The greatest interest in this initiative appears to be coming from the Australian players and management, who have been happily theorising about playing a test in the US en route to Ireland.

One issue affecting that is the GAA’s reliance on the income from home series to fund the trips to Australia, would create difficulties by turning one part of a home series into a cost. Duffy said though that whereas this would be manageable, it might better to stabilise the series first.

“In fairness I wouldn’t rule it out. ”