Joe Kernan has admitted that the long-term future of the International Rules series remains uncertain, but the Ireland manager believes the concept remains popular among players and can flourish if arrangements are tweaked.
The Armagh man will assemble a 23-man panel for the two-Test series against Australia, which takes place on in Adelaide on November 12 and one week later in Perth.
Speaking at a launch to unveil EirGrid as Irish team sponsors, Kernan explained that club commitments will have an impact on his selection.
Mayo’s Lee Keegan is definitively out injured due to a hip problem, while his fellow county men Chris Barrett, Brendan Harrison and Aidan O’Shea are likely participants, with Tom Parsons another contender.
Elsewhere, “four or five” players from Dublin’s three-in-a-row All-Ireland-winning team should feature, according to Kernan, with James McCarthy, Brian Fenton, Con O’Callaghan, Bernard Brogan and Stephen Cluxton listed among the ‘maybes’.
Other than that, Kernan is not yet sure which players will make the final cut from a trial squad of 36 as the participation of the likes of Tyrone’s Seán and Colm Cavanagh remains uncertain due to their potential club commitments, but the Ireland manager name-checked Carlow’s Brendan Murphy, Gary Brennan of Clare and Monaghan’s Conor McManus as players who have impressed him.
When asked a question in relation to the future of the series, Kernan admitted that the prognosis did not look good prior to Ireland’s four-point single-Test win two years ago in Croke Park.
“The long-term success of this isn’t secure,” said Kernan. “While Ireland certainly want it, Australia certainly want it, we should’ve been out last year and we weren’t, it was put back a year and that question is going to be asked before and after every series in the future.
“But from a player’s point of view and management, there’s no greater honour than representing your country.” This year’s edition reverts back to a two-Test format, a move that has the backing of the former Armagh manager, who suggested that the series should ideally be played on a home-and-away basis in consecutive years, with a gap year following each series.
Meanwhile, a permanent position in the GAA fixture calendar – possibly a few weeks further removed from the All-Ireland football final – that does not interfere with club schedules is also on his wish list. “If it was put back another couple of weeks it would just give us that bit of breathing space. Then you’re into the end of November,” said Kernan, who dismissed the notion that the GAA should cut formal ties to the Australian Football League (AFL) in order to avoid talented young players – such as Kerry minor star David Clifford – being linked to moves Down Under.
“I think there are only 12 Irish boys out there [in Australia], it is not a massive amount so maybe we are going a wee bit over board,” said Kernan.
“How many boys are going playing soccer over in England for second or third division teams that no one even hears about? We should say good luck to them and well done and be proud of them if they do succeed.”
Three Irish AFL players will feature in Kernan’s panel – Tyrone’s Conor McKenna (Essendon), Mayo’s Pearse Hanley (Gold Coast) and Laois’ Zach Tuohy (Geelong).
McKenna has impressed for Essendon, recently securing a new four-year deal. Quizzed on the idea of a Tadhg Kennelly-style one-season return, McKenna said: “I do want at some stage to come home and play for Tyrone … But, whether that is come home and stay and play for three or four years or go home, play one year and go back out, I don’t know.”
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