Irish rugby’s stock jumped once more this past weekend thanks to a future All Blacks coach’s masterplan put into practice with stunning execution.
Contrary to what some ad campaigns might tell us, this isn’t rugby country but it certainly feels like this is rugby time right now.
On Sunday, Kilmallock and Sarsfields almost convinced us it was July but there’s no getting away from the fact that this month is largely owned by other sports.
And when they’re winning on the field they’re winning off it too.
The Georgia game this weekend won’t set many pulses racing (although there is the little matter of Celtic Park on Friday) but it will tide enough over until the visit of Australia the following Saturday.
Earlier that day in Perth (9.45am Irish time), the countries meet in a one-off International Rules test with the promise of the AFL taking the hybrid concept seriously. After four humbling test defeats, it’s high time.
It’s a long way to travel for just one game but that wasn’t the GAA’s choice. Neither were most of the new rules such as all kick-outs crossing the 45 metre line, which will appeal to the larger AFL players.
If the AFL didn’t know already how much those in higher GAA office want the series to continue by their willingness to compromise, they might have realised it when they decided to defer a Central Council vote on the future of the concept just as it appeared counties wanted it to end.
That call will be made either next month or earlier in 2015.
In fairness to Croke Park, they are only reflecting the wishes of the players. Their determination to achieve international representation and distinction has hardly wavered. But when the indifference of the opponents has been so obvious are their efforts, as genuine as they are, not cheapened?
They travel to Melbourne tomorrow morning and play a warm-up game against a Victorian Football League selection on Sunday.
Paul Earley’s thoroughly professional approach has seen the squad meet every weekend since the start of last month on top of midweek trial games.
They have come together for at least a dozen sessions. As the travelling team, they will probably fit in a minimum of six more before the test. Australia will only congregate for the first time later this week.
Fourteen of their 24-man panel have no International Rules experience. Of the 10 who have, only one has played in the last three years.
Yet they are favourites because the new rules, at least on paper, give them an advantage. Their panel is solely made up of All-Australians too and there have been reports of just how earnest coach Alastair Clarkson has been in his preparations.
However, there would appear to be some concern about the authenticity of the Australians’ designs, Earley stressing: “If Australia are serious about continuing this series, they will have to put their focus on the football exclusively.”
Those words last month came as a reaction to Australia’s Nathan Fyfe stating Ireland will be treated to a hostile reception at Patersons (Subiaco) Stadium.
Whatever you may think about International Rules as a game, its problems are two-fold. Not only must the Australians maintain their good behaviour, they have to be competitive so much so that a victory for them would probably be the best result for the concept. It shouldn’t have to come down to that but after losing the last two series by a combined 166 points, they need to show they care.
That won’t be a problem for Michael Cheika. He is only a couple of wet weekends in his job as Wallabies coach and while Ireland will be fancied to win in the Aviva Stadium it goes without saying the visitors won’t lack pride.
But which Australia will turn up in Perth? It’s anyone’s guess. It might be our ball but it’s in their park.
Extrovert Mortimer tells Mayo story
Conor Mortimer has never conformed, but he’s never done things by halves either. Captured perfectly by Jackie Cahill, Mortimer’s commitment to his county comes across abundantly clear in his autobiography, One Season — A Day In The Life Of The Mayo Football Team.
The book provides the 32-year-old with the opportunity to articulate just how much he put into his football. Nothing ever came in the way of it. While Kieran McGeeney was rightly admired for staving off cruciate surgery by building the muscles around his knee, the same courtesy was never afforded to Mortimer despite playing 11 seasons with a ruptured ligament. Why? Because he was different. An extrovert. An individual. Many still hold the timing of his departure from the Mayo panel the week of the 2012 Connacht final against him but readers will appreciate just how much the county’s record scorer toiled before making his decision.
nFógra It was with great sadness that this column learned of the passing of well-known publican Ollie Quinlan on Sunday. The Nenagh man was a character whose passion and support for Tipperary hurling was rarely matched. We’ll remember with fondness his “glory” refrain after the 2010 All-Ireland final victory over Kilkenny. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.
Have we seen the last of dual players?
It will come as no surprise that Eoin Cadogan and Damien Cahalane have followed the example of Aidan Walsh and elected to go with one code next year. Walsh’s decision was a watershed moment. If he couldn’t do it anymore then nobody could.
Having had more of a look-in with the footballers this past season, Cadogan’s choice might have been anticipated.
Given his Castlehaven ties, Cahalane’s news on Sunday was slightly less expected but then he played a considerable role in their hurlers’ defence this year.
One just wonders are they the last of their kind. It’s quite clear that if it’s not managers refusing dual mandates to continue then it’s the players themselves who realise they can’t keep burning the candle at both ends.
What the trio managed was laudable but it appears the calls they’ve now made will be lasting ones. As Walsh said last month: “With my career now and the age I’m at, I’d say whatever one I pick could be the one.
“I can’t really say but I’ll try and stick with it for a few years and get the most out of myself.”
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