The fight for the Cormac McAnallen Cup continues on Friday 28th October, with the resumption of the International Rules series in the Etihad Stadium, Melbourne.
There are those who see the hybrid game as a shop window for Australian Rules clubs. Tyrone manager Micky Harte has alluded to this in the past, however few can question the entertainment value of the two match series.
There is also a preconception that the travelling side invariably wins this series and based on previous meetings it is hard to question such logic. The touring congregation spend a prolonged period of time together, working on all aspects of the game and getting to know the idiosyncrasies of their teammate’s movements on and off the ball. The home team will not have had anywhere near as much time together and will be under huge pressure and scrutiny from an expectant public.
This year, that pattern is set to continue, not least because, of Australia’s squad, only four have played the game before whereas 15 of Ireland’s 23 man squad have experienced the hustle bustle of the compromise rules.
Manager Anthony Tohill has given the nod to players who are well versed in the skulduggeries of the series. Stephen Cluxton, Leighton Glynn, Tadgh Kennelly, Steven McDonnell , Ciaran McKeever, Joe McMahon and Kieran Donaghy have all bore the brunt of physical Australian sides in the past and will be prepared for the thunderous tackling of this young Australian side.
Vice-Captain Ciaran McKeever, who has tasked as the Irish spokesperson for the tour, feels Ireland are set to improve on last year’s display.
“Going on last year’s series, I think that in front of nets we let ourselves down and everybody knows we play with a round ball,” he said.
“Hopefully we’ve done our homework. We’ve done plenty of [work] on boys getting wrapped as they’re getting ready to shoot.”
Manager Tohill is similarly optimistic and feels Ireland’s familiarity with the round ball should give them an advantage if they can cope with the Australian pressure.
“We should be able to kick it better, we should be able to score better than the Australians with the round ball but our players are not used to being put under pressure when you’re disposing of the ball.
“[The ball] should be an advantage to us but it’s one we haven’t really been able to exploit due to the way Australia can pressure, and it’s something we’re trying to work on but we can never replicate in our training session the intensity the Australians bring to the game.”
The Australian squad are stepping into the unknown for this series as only four players- David Wojcinski, Brad Green, James Frawley and Stephen Milne have contested the series before. Australian coach Rodney Eade believes this group of players will be well suited to the game.
“To be successful against Irish sides who have an emphasis on a fast-moving forward line and great ball skills, we need to select players who are both quick across the ground and have good foot skills that can adapt to the round ball very quickly,” he said.
“We have selected well-performed players in the youth bracket of 20-24 years old around the competition to provide spark and enthusiasm, combined with a proven track record in AFL footy of their running power”
This match will provide a direct contrast between the old and the new but one fears for an inexperienced Australian side. A youthful, tough tackling and hungry Aussie outfit will attempt to unsettle their counterparts with ferocious hitting, an art the Irish are not all that well versed in and have struggled to cope with in the past.
The experience of this Irish side however, should see them snatch victory and set them up nicely for the second test on the Gold Coast a week on Friday.