Likely inclusion of AFL players provides International Rules boost for Ireland

Ireland’s International Rules prospects have been boosted by the likely inclusion of a number of Australian based AFL players for this year’s series.

The GAA has confirmed that Australia will host Ireland in Adelaide on Sunday, November 12 with the series drawing to a climax the following Saturday in Perth.

It’s the first time since 2013 that a two-test format will be used and Ireland will travel Down Under as holders following their four-point win in Dublin in 2015.

Ireland manager Joe Kernan has identified over 50 players he intends to contact shortly and convene for training in mid-September.

This will include several current AFL players despite none of those being made available for the last series two years ago.

Former Tipperary football star Colin O’Riordan, Mayo’s Pearce Hanley and Laois man Zach Tuohy are among a host of players that could feature.

“We feel it might be important to have a couple of the AFL boys in with us,” said Kernan. “I’ve spoken to one or two already and they don’t seem to have a problem with it. I’ve asked them, ‘would you be interested? Can you find out if your club is okay with it?’ And the early signs have been positive.

The series could provide a fitting opportunity for Sean Cavanagh to end his representative career having confirmed he will retire from inter-county duty with Tyrone when the Championship ends.

Three-time All-Ireland winner Cavanagh captained Ireland to a series win in 2008, when he was Footballer of the Year, and last played for Ireland in 2014.

Dustin Fletcher, Australia’s goalkeeper in 2015, used that series as his retirement swansong having ended a 400-game AFL career weeks earlier.

“If you’re going out to win something you’d like to think he’d be in your squad,” said 2002 All-Ireland winning Armagh boss Kernan. “The beauty of this competition is that you’re not asking someone to play for 80 minutes. A player like Sean Cavanagh could have a major impact for five or 10-minute spells.

“If he’s fully fit and interested then certainly he’d be a guy you’d be talking to. It’s not fair to name names at this stage but I would say that age won’t matter.

“And he’s good at the things we want; he’s a good catcher, an accurate foot passer and a good shooter. He mightn’t have the speed of old but he’s still very effective around the middle of the field or close to goals.”

Kernan said he and selectors Padraic Joyce (Connacht), Darragh Ó Sé (Munster) and Dermot Earley (Leinster) divided up the country and assessed games closely throughout the league and championship.

Training will begin on the third Friday of September at the GAA’s National Games Development Centre on the Abbottstown campus.

“We sent out a bit of a warning shot last week that if boys think they have a chance to be involved then their fitness has to be good,” said Kernan. “The last time we had around 10 weeks to train together, it’s only five or six this time. People might lose out because of that.”

Bernard Brogan, the veteran Dublin forward, captained Ireland in 2015 with Lee Keegan of Mayo as vice-captain though Kernan confirmed no decision has been made about this year’s team leaders.

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