Two nations separated by a common sport


DIARY FROM DOWN UNDER:ONE OF the frequently cited selling points of the International Rules Series is that it facilitates the flow of ideas between two of the world’s biggest indigenous sports. With the best will in the world, the argument goes, this wouldn’t work as effectively if the series framework wasn’t there.

So each time the Tests take place there is much – what might appear to the less cerebral as “pointy-headed” – discussion between the GAA’s director of games Pat Daly and his AFL counterpart Kevin Sheehan, an interaction that has greatly benefited the information banks in both Croke Park and Melbourne’s Dockside.

As well as monitoring the rules of the international game, there is the opportunity to visit clubs and look at the latest developments in coaching and preparation.

Off the field there are many characteristics in common: selling the national games to television and the public in the face of competition from international sports, merchandising and maximising commercial revenues, etc.

It’s interesting to see the scale of the AFL’s publishing operation, under the wing of the Slattery Media company. Based in the AFL’s headquarters, it employs about 60 people and publishes the AFL Record, a magazine-cum-match programme which in its eight different editions (one for each weekly match) sells around 200,000.

Special commemorative issues for the knock-out stages, culminating in September’s Grand Final, are also produced with the latter being sold in newsagents as a memento of the big day – an initiative the GAA could think about for All-Ireland programmes.

The operation publishes many sports-themed books and even some that have no connection. In the near future the AFL are considering taking the publications unit entirely under the auspices of the organisation.

Just yesterday there was an opportunity to talk to AFL PRO Patrick Keane about another issue, also currently close to the GAA’s heart – that of using technology to verify scores.

“There’ll be a discussion at our commission next month whether we look at scoring technology. Key for us has been not slowing down the game and equally is there a form of technology that gives an answer as close as possible to fool-proof,” he said.

Already the organisations are set on different courses, as the GAA’s preference has been for score-detection technology, developed initially for tennis by Hawk-Eye. “We’ve no interest in Hawk-Eye,” said Keane. “This is purely built around cameras. Obviously our broadcasters provide significant coverage of our games but for big matches at weekends and public holidays there are more cameras than at most games during the year.

“Therefore the question is what is the baseline coverage and is it adequate? Because if a system only shows it part of the time then we don’t want something that creates a differential between our matches.

“No. It isn’t a path we’ve wanted to go down.

“With a camera you’re relying on the change of line in the ball and the way it’s moving whereas Hawk-Eye is used in other sports where it’s either simulation or a direct line. Obviously we’ve got people moving from multiple angles and we haven’t explored that path.”

The contrast is interesting because the GAA decided they didn’t want to go down the route of rugby’s TMO, partly because the outcome wasn’t guaranteed and partly because of the delay it introduces to matches, an aspect that is also concerning the AFL.

The pressure to do something has arisen within both games because of high-profile controversies: in the GAA, a rash of dubious square-ball decisions and in Australia two errors on the day of Grand Finals, in 2009 and earlier this year.

Last month Sharrod Wellingham was awarded a goal despite the ball hitting the post on the way in, something that invalidates scores in Australian Rules. Given that Collingwood, Wellingham’s team, were well beaten there wasn’t as big an uproar as two years previously when Geelong’s Tom Hawkins’s shot grazed the inside of the post at a stage when the match with St Kilda was finely balanced.

One AFL tradition that’s unlikely to translate is “Mad Monday”, when players mark the end of their season with pub crawls and merry japes, the questionable taste of some of which is creating such bad publicity that the practice may end.

Geelong marked their Mad Monday, the day after winning the Premiership, with some players dressing up as suspended AFL agent Ricky Nixon – infamous in Ireland as a recruiter of young footballers but better known here for his hotel frolics with a 17-year-old – and Kim Duthie, the girl in question. Mitch Duncan, as Nixon, arrived hand-in-hand with team-mate Jimmy Bartel, who was wearing a schoolgirl’s uniform. “I hope people see the funny side in it,” said Bartel with robust Australian optimism.