Uncharecteristic errors cost Ireland - Paul Earley

‘We were wild with our kicking. We didn’t hit our targets up front which we had worked on quite a bit’

Paul Earley continued the trend of Ireland managers winning one international rules series and losing another but this was a frustrating defeat, not one of those crushing non-contests that have helped to destabilise the game in recent years.

Last year was frustrating for a different reason - the inability of an indigenous-based selection to keep the ball kicked out to Ireland. This time Australia were formidable and Ireland were missing a number of last year's most notable contributors, but still it was Ireland's curious inability to play to their own strengths that undid the holders of the Cormac McAnallen trophy.

“There were a couple of problems in the first half,” said Earley at the post-match media conference. In the first quarter, in particular, I think we lost it 22-4. The first thing is Australia were incredibly accurate in front of goal. I think they had nine shots at goal and kicked seven overs and kicked some fantastic overs.

“We were uncharacteristically wild with our kicking. We didn’t hit our targets up front which we had worked on quite a bit. I think the way Australia played, their movement was very good and we did get the ball coming out of defence I think they dropped players back very, very quickly and made it difficult for us to hit our targets in the full-forward line.

“Outside of that first quarter we won the game. We changed things at half-time. We pushed up, we went man to man, we changed our system a little bit. We got much more competitive. When we look at all of the key stats, we won the contested balls, we won the contested marks. I think we even beat Australia in the tackle count from what I see.

“But it’s the scoreboard that counts and Australia were more accurate on the scoreboard today. They kicked 17 overs and that was a terrific return from them. Their accuracy was really impressive and ours was uncharacteristically not good today.”

What was uncharacteristically poor was balanced to some extent by what was unexpectedly good. Fielding high ball is one of the AFL’s iconic skills but Ireland competed well in the air.

“Yeah, yeah,” enthused Earley on that positive. “You’d expect that Australia would win more of those. It’s part of your game. There’s a greater reward for the catch in Australian rules than there is in Gaelic football. But we won the midfield contest as well and we felt if we were able to win the midfield contest we’d win the game with our kicking skills and our forward unit and we won the midfield contest.

“I don’t know the percentage but we did win the contests in the middle of the field so very, very pleased with that. A lot of the targets we had set we achieved them but it’s the scoreboard that counts.”

Team captain Michael Murphy echoed his manager's analysis, self critically focusing on the forwards' difficulty in establishing any consistent attacking platform in the first half. He also mentioned near misses at the end, presumably referring to the disallowed goal by Seán Cavanagh, the equivalent of a rolling maul conducted on the goal-line which in fairness never looked likely to be awarded.

“We were coughing up possession high up the field. Australia turned ball over; were very, very slick in their hand-passing and got some good scores within those two quarters.

“Going in at half-time, we were still fairly confident. We had played absolutely nothing in that half whatsoever. We were battling well but not executing our basic skills the way we wanted. Once we started doing that, we started to get a bit of joy.

“We just came up short in the end. The chances we missed at the end as well. The start of the game cost us.

“I knew they’d bring the battle to us. It was just disappointing the way we started the game - that will be the niggling regret we’ll have for the rest of the year.”

Murphy, who has been an exceptional international and captain for the past two series, had a relatively subdued outing in the test but he was defiant about the pride taken in winning last year’s disappointingly one-way series.

“We’ve always taken it seriously. We won it last year and we took a hell of a lot out of last year even if the score-line reflected it as a meaningless contest. It was far from that. We enjoyed the whole experience. It was the exact same over here. We enjoy playing for Ireland. We enjoy the whole thrill of it.”

AFL coach Alastair Clarkson didn't dissent from the view that the first quarter had been literally a game changer.

“Yeah. We thought that if the game could be reasonably even at quarter-time that would be a really good result for us. We thought particularly early in games in past series we had been slow to start and get used to the round ball. We’d been practising with it but in game mode against high-quality opposition like the Irish we thought it would be difficult.”

Clarkson also reiterated his opinion that the series should be played over two tests in future.

“We’d like another test in the sense that so many of the series have been two-test series and hopefully that will be the case if we play abroad next season. These guys have enjoyed it so much and I’ve enjoyed it so much that it’s a shame there isn’t another seven or eight days to see if we can improve again and see if the Irish could respond. Their loss tonight might have made a greater contest in the second game.”