By Mark Jones
DUBLIN — It had its critics and quite a few GAA die-hards said it was an experiment doomed to failure, but the International Rules format had the last laugh when more than 35,000 spectators streamed into Croke Park on Sunday to witness a spectacular Irish victory.
Often frustrated at Gaelic games’ lack of an international dimension, the chants of "Ireland, Ireland" that boomed around the famous stadium were enough to make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck.
It was a magnificent occasion as the Irish picked themselves off the floor following their disappointment of the first test. Using the round, rather than oval ball, but adopting the Aussie Rules scoring procedures, Colm O’Rourke’s team crucially scored four goals to the visitors’ two.
With one point for a "Behind" and three for an "Over," it was the 6-point value of the goal that gave Ireland the edge. Their four strikes came in a furious 17-minute spell either side of halftime.
Galway’s Sean de Paor cracked home the first after Michael Donnellan and Paul Brewster had done most of the spadework, and then Tyrone star Peter Canavan buried a second with a superb finish.
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The Irish were just one point in front at halftime, 37-36, but they moved clear when one of Galway’s All Ireland winning heroes, Jarlath Fallon, fired his shot into the net. There was more of the Galway connection two minutes later, when Donnellan sprinted up the pitch, took Fallon’s astute return pass, and fisted the ball home.
This time there were no outbreaks of violence, which had marred previous International Rules series. Captain John McDermott had insisted that the players would "stand up to the Australians physically," and that’s what Ireland did without any unnecessary rough stuff.
McDermott led by example and Anthony Tohill was also outstanding, while Darren Fay, Glen Ryan and Donnellan were inspirational.
"The game showed what a future this format has. It was a tremendous spectacle," manager O’Rourke summed up.
The countries meet again next year in Australia.