Category: Archive

Aussies’ rules

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

His ribs protruded as if they’d been broken, and the prognosis for recovery involved spending six weeks on the sidelines. Except Stynes had a run of consecutive appearances going back then that he didn’t want to interrupt. So, after much debate, he persuaded his coach to give him an opportunity to prove he would be able to tog out the following weekend.
At Melbourne’s final training session that week, Stynes was given a peculiar fitness test. It involved him trying to catch and hold on to the ball while the three hardest chaws in the squad were given license to hit him from all sides. For twenty minutes, they roughed him up good. After one especially vicious challenge, he ended up in a punch-up with one of the testers. The fight was evidence enough and the coach soon intervened. He talked briefly to the watching team doctor, and declared Stynes would start the game.
This, and plenty more withering stories about the bruising culture of Aussie
Rules, are contained in Stynes’ insightful 1995 autobiography “Whatever It
Takes.” If he hasn’t already, Setanta O’hAilpin would do well to get his hands on a copy. As he embarks on his new career with Carlton in Melbourne, this is the man that he will be compared to most often. Mercurial a hurler as he is, O’hAilpin is about to discover the world he moves in now is not one where guys falling to the ground theatrically at the first sign of contact are much appreciated.
Not only did Stynes prove during the eighties and nineties that he could play the game as well as any native, he also showed them he was up to the immense physical challenges posed, even after being ridiculed early on in his pro career for deigning to wear gloves during matches – a practice that has since become widespread in the sport. In order to fully grasp the measure of Stynes’ achievement (a feat in its own way comparable to Liam Brady winning Series A with
Juventus in 1982) in becoming one of the greatest players of his generation down under, it’s instructive to look at the caliber of Irish players who didn’t endure with the oval ball.
Dermot McNicholl, Paul Earley, Colm McMenamon, Colin Corkery, Anthony Tohill and Stynes’ younger brother Brian, to name just a few, all went to Australia with far more certain football pedigrees than O’hAilpin and didn’t last. That stellar line-up handily demonstrates the enormity of the task facing him, and for all his natural athleticism, the news that Carlton recently signed two rugby league coaches to help their players improve their tackling skills reinforces the view he may be up against it.
That he has already made it to the elite level in one sport at such a tender age should stand him in good stead. Apart from the confidence gained from a summer in which he proved easier for teenage girls to pin up on their walls than for defenders to pin down, this is the perfect time for him to take a gamble of this ilk. Were it all to go horribly wrong, he’s young enough to return to Cork in two years, (perhaps with an extra stone of muscle on his frame) and cherished enough there to be welcomed back by a grateful county.
Of course, there are some fools out there trying desperately to make a co-relation between the Cork hurling firmament losing its brightest young star and the FAI having to admit they may soon be entertaining France at Anfield. An argument is being posited that if the GAA were only to open the gates of Croke
Park and allow the money stream in from subsequent rentals, youngsters like O’hAilpin wouldn’t have to go to Australia to earn a crust. They could be paid handsomely for playing hurling and football.
This is facetious stuff. From every possible snippet of information we can glean, Setanta is in Melbourne trying his luck at being a professional athlete because that is what he has always wanted to be. More power to him. He deserves his shot and our only wish is that his starting salary at Carlton (13,000 euro) was a little bigger than it is. Apart from the massive increase in hits on the club website from Irish internet surfers this past week alone, how long before the first Carlton jersey is proudly worn down Patrick Street and becomes a high-selling de rigueur fashion item?
It’s been said before but bears repeating under the present circumstances.
Even at the rookie AFL wage rates, the GAA will never be able to sustain full-time professionalism, no matter how many World Cup qualifiers ever get played on Jones’ Road.
In the meantime, it’s probably best if speculation about how well O’hAilpin will fare in the sport the locals call ‘real footy’ should be tempered a little.
“I have often been asked whether Jack O’Shea would have made the grade in Australian football and I always have to had to answer this question in two parts,” writes Jim Stynes. “Firstly, if O’Shea had been born in Australia and had grown up with the Australian code, he would have been regarded as one of the greatest of the greats. Secondly, he most certainly would have succeeded in switching codes – but only if he had taken up the Australian code before he reached his twenties.”
Just like the moment he drove the sliotar down the throat of that hound outside Chulainn’s hall all those centuries ago, the odds appear stacked against

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