Why it’s time to say goodbye to International Rules

Ireland's Lee Keegan and Aidan O'Shea during a 'recovery session' in the South Pacific Health Club in Melbourne. Picture Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

If the GAA and AFL are serious about re-energising the series, they should up sticks and bring it to New York<

If the GAA had any sense, we would all be paying our last respects to the International Rules Series shortly before noon tomorrow, when the final whistle is blown and Patersons Stadium in Perth empties its patrons back into the Western Australian evening after what will hopefully be a dignified and, at the same time, diverting affair.

We’ll not trot out any of the usual reasons habitually listed for support of the concept’s termination. In fact, after 20 years watching the thing, this column still can’t decide if it is a good idea turned bad or a bad idea that just happened to come good now and again through accident rather than anyone’s design.

Yours truly was in Melbourne in 2003 when Ireland won the second test by three points but lost the series itself by seven. That was one of the better vintages, no doubt about it, but there have been many a bad batch and few worse than the last when an indigenous touring Australian side went down by a record margin.

It has undoubtedly served us well in some aspects. Ireland’s amateurs can only have benefited by pitting themselves against professionals from one of the toughest team sports in the world and the GAA hierarchy will have found such close proximity to their administrative counterparts in the AFL to be more than worthwhile, too.

It’s always good to talk, after all...

Let’s not forget either, that the Rules Series was part of the conversation time and again when rule changes to Gaelic games were considered and, in some case, passed. Topping it all off was the opportunity it gave to some of our finest sportsmen to wear a green, or white, jersey and say they played for Ireland.

That cannot be overstated.

Do we need to talk about the down sides again? The tendency towards thuggishness and the counter revolution that turned the whole thing into an insipid bore? The constant rule changes designed to counter both extremes and maintain the Series’ place as an international outlet for both indigenous codes?

Let’s not.

If the GAA and AFL are serious about re-energising the Rules Series, then they really should up sticks with the entire idea and bring it to New York as the latter body’s football operations manager Mark Evans suggested earlier this week. After all, isn’t the entire game based on the idea of maximising exposure for the two codes?

What better market is there than the USA?

But, that’s where the real problem with the International Rules zooms into focus. Why should the GAA, or the AFL for that matter, bring along a buddy when they are trying to muscle their way into the big, bad world of international sports? Then again, the GAA are already looking to export their Super 11s hurling concept so you might say what’s another made-up game?

Whatever about the Rules Series, there is no denying that the Super 11s hurling is a game worth watching. The half-time exhibition put on by some of hurling’s best players during the Penn State-UCF American football game in Croke Park last August even blew some hurling diehards away, but it still isn’t, ‘real’ hurling.

Just as International Rules isn’t ‘real’ football.

From a marketing point of view, how does it make sense for the GAA to promote games that no-one in Ireland play while, at the same time, launch their GAA GO network to broadcast the actual All-Ireland championships around the world? You don’t need a degree in marketing or sales to know that all those games would produce mixed messages and a product without any defined identity.

The international Rules were fine and dandy when they were the only product the GAA had for sale on a scale beyond Ireland, but that has clearly changed. The advent of coverage on Sky Sports has had its critics, but it is at least a means of exporting the GAA’s core games beyond this island.

It is something they should continue to do. The All Blacks played the USA in Chicago’s Soldier Field this month and attracted a capacity 62,000 spectators. American football, basketball and baseball have all dipped their toes in Canada, Mexico, Europe and Japan.

The GAA needs to ask itself what it wants from an international dimension. Is it just after the expat and first and second generation markets or are its sights set higher? Whatever the goal, presenting an uninitiated audience with two distinct games is confusing enough. Does it really need to be crowding the market with three? Or four?

It’s time to say goodbye.

Contact: brendan.obrien@examiner.ie

Twitter: @Rackob


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