Slick Irish worth their win

 

After a much-improved performance, Ireland overturned last week's one-point deficit to win the International Rules series sponsored by Coca-Cola. The home side were worth their 11-point victory as the Australians failed to register the expected improvement on their narrow, first-test victory.

Whereas a week ago, the Australians appeared to grow into the International Rules game and finish strongly, yesterday they looked tired. Although they won good possession, with Nathan Buckley again exceptional on the ball, their kicking of the round ball - such a feature in the first match - was hampered by the wet conditions and marked by inaccuracy.

They fought hard to stay in touch but in the end were beaten by Ireland's superior goal tally, four to two, which effectively covered the difference between the teams.

But this was also a more polished display by Ireland. The defence was tight with Seamus Moynihan, Darren Fay and Sean Lockhart excellent on the fullback line and Glen Ryan commanding at centre back. John McDermott had another immense day at centrefield and up front, the moves were more penetrative as evidenced by the four goals.

Tactically, the play had been refined on the previous week and in terms of personnel, the home side made their greater playing resources (29 players used over the two matches as opposed to 21) tell.

With a full panel at his disposal, Ireland manager Colm O'Rourke was able to welcome back from injury captain John McDermott (who was married on Friday and pleaded the fifth amendment when asked had he celebrated his nuptials abstemiously) and Brian Stynes, who had been carried off in the first match.

At the post-match press conference, O'Rourke explained that Ireland had decided to play slightly differently in the second test. For a start, they concentrated on short passing rather than risk losing the ball with long kicks.

Secondly they decided that no player should play the full 80 minutes and a rota was organised to ensure that players didn't run out of steam in the final quarter - a significant influence on Australia's barn-storming comeback in the first test.

There was also a greater fluidity about the team with players slotting into allocated roles more smoothly than before. For instance, Anthony Tohill gave full back Darren Fay a rest in the third quarter and played a major role in holding the defence steady.

Fay had acquitted himself well during the match and returned for the final 20 minutes re-invigorated. This was a move designed to counter the dangers apparent a week previously when he had played the full match but faded in the last quarter.

In Fay's absence, Tohill, who started at full forward, was commanding in the air and shut down the aerial threat which had damaged Ireland so much in the first match.

It was greatly to Ireland's benefit that the weather turned in the hour before the throw-in. A week ago the wind had played a disruptive role in proceedings - particularly for the visitors, who have enough difficulty adapting to the round ball in calm conditions.

This time, matters proved even worse for the Australians. A steady drizzle of rain fell and made the ball slippery. This had the effect of making clean catching far more difficult - something that was going to disproportionately disadvantage the visitors.

Unlike in the first match, there was to be little enough marking of the ball as it proved very difficult to hold. O'Rourke said afterwards that he had been hoping for rain and his faith in the greasy conditions was justified.

Australian coach Leigh Matthews admitted that his team had been unable to take good marks near to goal and that had contributed to their reduced scoring threat. The statistics backed him up. Last week Australia scored 28 points from marks; yesterday only seven.

The match was consistently more competitive than a week ago when Ireland, although beaten at the death, led by substantial margins throughout the first three quarters. This time Ireland had the edge but the Australians were game to the end when two late overs from Jarlath Fallon and Peter Canavan copperfastened the win.

As early as the sixth minute, Ireland were given notice that Australia wouldn't be easily led this time. After a positive opening had yielded a six-point lead, Scott Camporeale scored a goal after Anthony Stevens's dropping lineball had come back off the crossbar. Six overs in that opening period helped the home side to a 20-10 lead.

Just as the visitors had chipped away at the deficit and narrowed it to four points, 20-24, Ireland embarked on a productive phase of scoring. On 30 minutes, Michael Donnellan's run started an attack which Paul Brewster continued to Sean de Paor whose finish to the net was top-class.

Six minutes later, Peter Canavan delivered a classical goal after taking possession in the corner and sneaking in along the endline before driving home. Yet Australia's replay was quick and within a minute Robert Harvey rammed home an indecisive clearance and at half-time there was only a point in it, 37-36.

By this stage Ireland looked in trouble. A week previously Australia had finished the match very strongly. This time however, it was the home side who took the decisive grip. Within three minutes shortly into the third quarter, two goals were scored. Both were conjured up by Jarlath Fallon who echoed his championship performances for Galway by drifting for a while before clicking into form for a vitally influential spell. In the 45th minute he took a pass from Canavan and placed it perfectly to Silvagni's left into the net.

Three minutes later Fallon was there to provide the link as Donnellan made it three goals for Galwaymen by playing a one-two and punching the ball into the net. This helped Ireland to a 12-point lead going into the final quarter.

Unlike last week Australia didn't get the bounce of the ball when they pushed to recover the match. Neither were they as accurate and several behinds could have been overs. In the end, Ireland held firm to record the first series victory by a home team in the 14 years and five series since International Rules was inaugurated.