By Mark JonesAustralia 68, Ireland 51 (Aggregate: 113-98 for Australia)
DUBLIN — People voted with their feet as just short of 60,000 fans crowded into Croke Park for last Sunday’s International Rules second test, but they were let down. Not by the Irish players, whose best was not good enough to prevent highly motivated Australia from taking the series, but by the GAA itself.
This annual series gives Ireland’s major sporting organization its international dimension. However, the way in which it was handled by the GAA was nothing short of shambolic.
First, the All-Ireland football final replay was scheduled for the day before the first test, depriving the Irish of six players who were on duty with Kerry and Galway. Equally, two other key players, Glen Ryan and Ciaran Whelan, had to play club games on the eve of last Sunday’s second test – both suffered injuries and were unavailable.
Then there was the GAA’s refusal to let the Ireland squad remain in camp between the two tests. Instead, the players were criss-crossing the country for two training sessions, while the Australians had the advantage of six days intensive preparation.
"We were missing key players," said Kerry’s captain, Seamus Moynihan, fuming. "Glen Ryan had to play a bloody game and so did Ciaran Whelan – why weren’t they called off? You’ve amateurs [Ireland] playing professionals [Australia] and the amateurs have to play a game the night before the test. It could only happen in Ireland."
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Team manager Brian McEniff clearly wasn’t best pleased with having to do without Ryan and Whelan. "It was a hammer blow and it put a damper on the team much more than I thought," her said. "We need to get a wee bit of latitude with the players to get them together and prepare in a way so we can take on professional athletes."
That lack of latitude was evident as the Irish failed to make up the deficit from the first test to lose the series by 123-98. The home team badly needed a strong start, but when Peter Canavan’s shot was saved by Andrew Kellaway after just five minutes, it was destined to be Australia’s day.
It was also the beginning of the end for Canavan who was sent off toward the end of the first quarter following an outbreak of hostilities with Jason Akermanis. The Aussie received his marching orders as well, but he was less of a loss to his side than Canavan was to Ireland.
Coming up to halftime, the winners had extended their lead to 29-10 thanks to a goal by the excellent Michael O’Loughlin. And while the Irish were more prominent in the final two quarters, Australia comfortably soaked up the pressure.
"Skill didn’t do it for them this time," said the Aussie coach, Dermott Brereton, "and their fitness needs to come up. Until they can run through a match without a drop-off in the execution of skills because of the fatigue factor, then they’re going to stay where they are."
In the end, Australia adapted to the round ball extremely well and gave Ireland a lesson in shooting to close out the game by 17 points. Dermot Earley, Brian Stynes, Anthony Tohill and Moynihan all played their parts, while goalkeeper Cormac Sullivan of Meath was voted Ireland’s Player of the Series.
Ireland: C. Sullivan (Meath); F. Cullen (Offaly), D. Fay (Meath), S.M. Lockhart (Derry), S. de Paor (Galway), O. Sexton (Cork), A. Rainbow (Kildare); S. Moynihan (Kerry), A. Tohill (Derry), P. Joyce (Galway), T. Giles (Meath), D. Earley (Kildare), L. Reilly (Cavan), G. Geraghty (Meath), P. Canavan (Tyrone).
Interchange: G. Cavlan (Tyrone), M. Crossan (Donegal), E. Gormley (Tyrone), K.
McGeeney (Armagh), P. McGrane (Armagh), C. McManus (Offaly), C. McManamon
(Mayo), B. Stynes (Dublin).