Earley bemoans poor first quarter from Ireland

Earley bemoans poor first quarter from Ireland

The result may have well and truly saved the International Series for the foreseeable future, but that will provide Ireland with cold comfort after they left it too late in Perth earlier today.

Manager Paul Earley rued his side's slow start, which saw them post just one over in the first quarter and a measly three behinds in the second, and captain Michael Murphy admitted it would haunt the players for some time to come.

In front of a 38,262 crowd in Paterson Stadium, Ireland eventually gave their sizeable support something to cheer about with an impressive third quarter, which saw them narrow the half-time deficit of 28 points (35-7) to 16 (46-30).

With Conor McManus, Sean Cavanagh and Mattie Donnelly leading the charge, they also won the fourth quarter by 16 points to 10 but the Australians retained enough composure to see out the affair.

They were the better side for large swathes of the game, showing a remarkable familiarity in kicking the supposedly foreign round ball, Steve Johnson firing over three overs in the opening quarter.

Ireland's fears about the 45 metre kick-out rule were misplaced as it was the one area where they were superior in the first half. However, they took far too much out of the ball.

At both half-time and full-time, the statistics showed they had claimed more marks than Australia while the hosts had kicked more.

Where Johnson left off in the first quarter, Nick Riewoldt took over in the second as a nervous Ireland made a catalogue of unforced errors such as kicking straight into Australian hands.

"There were a couple of problems in the first half," acknowledged Earley. "In the first quarter in particular, I think we lost it 22-4.

"The first thing is Australia were incredibly accurate in front of goal. I think they had nine shots at goal and kicked seven overs and kicked some fantastic overs.

"We were uncharacteristically wild with our kicking. We didn't hit our targets up front which we had worked on quite a bit.

"I think the way Australia played, their movement was very good and we did get the ball coming out of defence.

"I think they dropped players back very, very quickly and made it difficult for us to hit our targets in the full-forward line. Outside of that first quarter we won the game."

Earley, who had omitted Niall Morgan and Padraig O'Neill from the 23 matchday panel beforehand, put that down to pushing up and going man-to-man.

Although the third quarter started with overs for Chad Wingard and Jarrad McVeigh, the remainder of the 18 minute period was Ireland's. Darren Hughes struck for a goal in the sixth minute after good work by Murphy and McManus although Australia were unfortunate not to win a sideline kick in the build-up.

Ireland hit four overs without reply, a brace each from McManus and Donnelly, and we finally had a game. "We got much more competitive," said Earley.

"When we look at all of the key stats, we won the contested balls, we won the contested marks. I think we even beat Australia in the tackle count from what I see.

"But it's the scoreboard that counts and Australia were more accurate on the scoreboard today. They kicked 17 overs and that was a terrific return from them. Their accuracy was really impressive and ours was uncharacteristically not good today."

Ireland needed to hit the ground running early in the final quarter and Colm Begley sent over a delightful over.

However, Australia then returned fire with Wingard and Kieren Jack overs. McManus then claimed a spectacular mark to post an over and Sean Cavanagh had an over only for Luke Breust to add three points.

With two minutes remaining, Nick Smith's own goal was a consolation. McManus added another over and a Begley pass had too much pace on it for Murphy to palm to the net.

Even if Australia were outstanding at the outset, Murphy, who wasn't his usual impressive self, knew Ireland's start was unacceptable.

"They are the elite of the elite of the AFL so you’d expect them to adapt to the round ball quicker than some others," he said.

"They’re elite footballers, they know how to kick.

They were very, very good. And they were very smart in terms of sweeping up breaks. Even in terms of the way they defended.

"I knew they’d bring the battle to us. It was just disappointing the way we started the game – that will be the niggling regret we’ll have for the rest of the year.

As for the AFL's idea of bringing the hybrid game to the US next year, Earley remained sceptical.

"I think it’s got to establish a foothold in Australia and Ireland first. We’ve had some difficult years over the last four or five. they’ve been pretty one-sided. This has been a great concept.

"I’ve always felt there is a future for the series if both sides play their best teams. That was an attractive game for the spectator to watch and enjoy. If it is to be played next year which I hope it will,

"I’d certainly like it to be played in Ireland. And certainly more than one test because I think you do need two tests – and Alastair Clarkson said the same thing to me when I met him.

"Two tests is ideal. You learn so much from the first one. You can compete harder and maybe change a few things for the second one.

"I don’t see the logic in playing it in the States, to be perfectly honest. It’s got to establish a foothold in Australia and Ireland first of all before you take it internationally."

Clarkson, in his post-match press conference, backed the two-test format but disagreed on the US proposal and stated the game already has a strong foundation.

"It’s a difficult one to say because the series has been going for a long period of time. I feel it has been consolidated in a sense. It was a bit shaky over the last two or three years. We didn’t pick sides which were representative of the best players in our competition.

"I think there is a market in New York. There is a big Irish contingency there as well. We will wait and see. We are not the ones to dictate that. The AFL and the GAA will look at it. We might be able to get the best of both worlds – have one in New York in Boston and the other one in Croke Park.

"If that was the case wouldn’t that be the case for everyone involved? For the Irish to play a game in Boston or New York would be superb and for our boys that would be a great concept as well."

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