With aggregate scores over the two games to determine the overall winners, Ireland are still very much in the hunt. However, a 7-point loss, 58 (1-14-10) to 65 (2-15-8), Sunday turned out to be a disappointing result following an opening half of total dominance. After the interval, Australia were a different proposition as suddenly their shooting problems were solved, and the complacent Irish were outclassed.
What Ireland needed badly in the closing stages were goals (worth six points each), but some of the home team’s finishing was woeful as they attempted to claw back into the game. In the end, the Aussies managed two goals to Ireland’s one, and they also had more three-pointers (15 to 14) than the Irish. With an alien round ball (Australian Rules uses an oval ball) added to the wet conditions, the winners were, not surprisingly, pleased with their performance.
“They’re playing a game that’s foreign to them,” said coach Garry Lyon, “and they were down at halftime, so it would’ve been easy for them to throw their hand at it. But I was proud of the way they stuck at it and of their resolve. We always knew they had that sort of character.”
Trailing by 38-19 at the changeover, Australia were a team transformed during the second half of two 20-minute quarters. With Matthew Pavlich, Chris Johnson, Nathan Brown and Christopher Judd making an impact, they won the third quarter, 24-7, in highly impressive style, and then a second goal by Daniel Kerr 10 minutes from full time sealed the victory.
The Irish can point to the absence of seasoned International Rules campaigners in Michael Donnellan, Darren Fay, Anthony Tohill and Ciaran Whelan, but the number of mistakes they made during those final two quarters was a major disappointment even if the superior fitness of the Australians (full-time professionals) told against the home side’s amateurs.
Irish manager John O’Keeffe had set his players a target of four or five goals, but they came up badly short.
“We’ve got to move the ball quicker and find the loose men more often,” he said. “We had a few goal chances, but we didn’t take them because we delayed the transfer too long. We’ll have to take them next Sunday, and while it’s disappointing to have lost after building up such a big lead, were still only two scores behind the Australians.”
The prospect of Ireland being behind was an unlikely one following a promising start. A succession of three-pointers from Padraic Joyce, Tadhg Kennelly and Brendan Jer O’Sullivan, to go with an effective pass-and-run style, pushed O’Keeffe’s players into a comfortable lead. With Cork’s Graham Canty (the only player who soldiered for the entire 80 minutes without a rest from the interchange bench), Trevor Giles and Seamus Moynihan especially prominent the omens were good for a repeat of last year’s success.
“Our skills were excellent in the first half, but they improved in the third quarter and they put us under so much pressure from the kick-outs that eventually it told,” said O’Keeffe.
Soon, the Irish were struggling to muster even one-pointers (kicks to the side of main posts) and while Dessie Dolan was placed by Joyce for a goal and Kennelly had time to fire over a three-pointer in the closing minutes, Brown had the final say for Australia with a three-pointer.
“We went for players who we thought would get us goals,” added O’Keeffe, “and although we looked dangerous in attack, we just weren’t clinical enough.
Apart from trailing by seven points, O’Keeffe has another headache in that six of his panel may be required to play club championship games the day before Sunday’s second test. O’Keeffe has asked the relevant county boards to consider postponing the games so that Kieran McGeeney, Ray Cosgrove, Ciaran McManus, Cormac McAnallen, Joe Bergin and Graham Geraghty can play. However, with clubs claiming fixture congestion, his plea may be ignored.
With the GAA at pains to promote and sustain the International Rules series and with more than the 44,000 who paid into Croke Park last Sunday expected to attend the deciding game, would it not be appropriate for the authorities to intervene and insist that the matches be rescheduled? Or is this another GAA solution to a GAA problem?
Ireland: P Burke (Mayo); A. Rainbow (Kildare), G. Canty (Cork), A. Lynch (Cork), E. O’Hara (Sligo), K. McGeeney (Armagh), T. Giles (Meath); S. Moynihan (Kerry), D. O Se (Kerry, 4); E. Kelly (Meath), T. Kennelly (Kerry, 11), J. Bergin (Galway, 2); P. Joyce (Galway, 9), C. McManus (Offaly, 5), G. Geraghty (Meath, 3). Interchange players: R. Cosgrove (Dublin, 3), D. Dolan (Westmeath, 12), C. McAnallen (Tyrone), P. McGrane (Armagh), D. Meehan (Galway), T. O Se (Kerry), B.J. O’Sullivan (Cork, 6), D. Savage (Galway, 3).