Two-match International Rules series set to be revived

Players bring the passion as hybrid game feels love again following Ireland's Croke Park win

Ireland celebrate with the Cormac McAnallen Cup after beating Australia at Croke Park. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Ireland celebrate with the Cormac McAnallen Cup after beating Australia at Croke Park. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

 

The international series evokes a range of reactions but no one can argue with its resilience. Having hit various crises over the past 10 years and watched its carefully stockpiled credits from the boom years dissipate, the hybrid game has been living hand-to-mouth for the past couple of series, reduced to playing just one Test match.

On Saturday in Croke Park Ireland and Australia played out the latest instalment and it ended up ticking nearly every box necessary for its medium-term survival.

One of the strongest AFL teams ever assembled arrived here having embarrassed their hosts 12 months ago in Perth. Unlike some other years, the intentions of the Australians couldn’t be doubted. Ireland, though, were competitive and more.

Manager Joe Kernan’s mission statement that the team would play traditional Gaelic football and use its natural strengths delivered a fine performance, dominating the first half and rallying to seal victory despite a rousing Australian recovery that slashed the half-time deficit of 20 all the way down to three with as many minutes left.

Sang the praises

Kernan sang the praises of the international project afterwards. “We talked about this over the past couple of weeks. This competition is 30 years old. We had Jack O’Shea in last night presenting the jerseys. He said a remarkable thing and I never thought of it.

“He said he had a set of seven All-Ireland medals but, ‘every time I meet somebody, they ask me about the Aussie Rules’.”

Second Captains

The attendance of 38,386 might be modest in comparison to the heyday of a full-to-capacity Croke Park but it was in keeping with the GAA’s projection.

It has been noticeable that the mood towards the internationals has changed considerably in the past two years since Gillon McLachlan took over as CEO of the AFL and committed the organisation to playing its best players.

Current GAA president Aogán Ó Fearghail is also an enthusiast and the word around Croke Park has been that the agreement to play the series is in the process of being renewed and that it will in all likelihood be restored to a two-match annual event.

Even the much-mentioned New York Test wasn’t being ruled out.

Australia coach Alastair Clarkson has done a lot to restore the reputation of the series but the hugely successful Hawthorn coach announced on Saturday that he would be stepping down in keeping with AFL protocol.

Love the concept

“I love the concept, love the involvement, but we have a rotation system in our country. This is my swansong. I’ve done it for two years and I’ll pass the baton to another coach in our competition.”

Ireland captain Bernard Brogan, who won the GAA player of the series award, talked about how much it meant to lift the Cormac McAnallen trophy and about the interest amongst the best footballers in the game.

“There were 30 in the end, serven lads left on reserve. The lads who didn’t make it were gutted. We went out for a social night a few weeks ago and three or four lads came up to me at different stages asking ‘how do you think I did today? Do you think I’ll get in?’

“These are heroes of their county and it shows how emotional they are about it. ‘What do you think Joe will think, will I be in the mix?’ These lads will give anything to wear that green jersey.”

nA striking ceremony was held before the match to commemorate the 14 people who died in Croke Park on Bloody Sunday, 95 years ago on Saturday. Ó Fearghail and GAA director general Páraic Duffy carried out a wreath to lay on the spot where Tipperary footballer Michael Hogan died and 14 flames were lit on the Hill 16 terrace and burned throughout the match.

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