Most of the Ireland International Rules team and GAA officials touch down in Dublin airport early this morning.
Several of the party will be back there two days later on Thanksgiving Thursday to fly to Boston for this year’s All Stars tour.
Maximising Gaelic football’s profile in the US is a priority for Croke Park right now, with the country a fertile breeding ground for Gaelic games. The Canton centre, where Saturday’s exhibition game will be played, is a thriving hub in Massachusetts. Clubs such as Manhattan Gaels and Shannon Gaels in New York are reaching out to new audiences.
So if the GAA have cold feet about introducing another sport Stateside it’s understandable. When so many are learning about Gaelic football, they wouldn’t want to confuse the message with International Rules. It would most surely over-egg the pudding.
Let’s be honest, the hybrid game can confuse. On Saturday it was noticeable just how bemused the crowd were with several of the umpires’ decisions. Australian coach Alastair Clarkson is right when he says there should be tolerance for the lack of understanding about the myriad of rules in the game.
If it is to be digested fully by both sets of supporters there must be at least one test every year. If it is to be accepted then International Rules must become a regular and frequent part of each organisation’s season calendar.
Let’s be honest again — if it weren’t for the Irish influence on the east coast of the US would there actually be a market for an International Rules game? (A similar argument might be made for why this year’s test took place in Perth). This idea, first mentioned by the AFL in Dublin last year, is largely dependent on the strength of the GAA. The word is Australian players have already been given assurances a test will take place there.
One wonders just how well the AFL have thought this one through, though. Their director of football operations Mark Evans said last week: “We think there’s an opportunity to take the game to the United States, maybe play in Central Park in New York, on our way towards Ireland. We’ll talk to the Irish during their time in Australia.” Anyone who’s visited the city will know there is no stadium in the park.
But the GAA playing a major game in the US? We’ve heard that one before. Exactly two years ago, it was mooted that a Division 1 football game might be played in the Big Apple. However, the idea never came to fruition. There was also speculation that a Railway Cup final was scheduled to take place in Texas. Again, logistics mean that was a non-runner.
The Australians have this idea of one test there followed by a second in Ireland. Realistically, the one test format suits all parties. The strength of the AFL clubs was shown by how quickly Fremantle Dockers whisked Nathan Fyfe off the panel after he hurt his shoulder in a warm-up game. Fyfe felt he could have played on Saturday but the risk wasn’t taken.
So concerned were the Western Bulldogs about Nic Natanui’s involvement that they sent a club representative to the Australian training camp.
Unless the two tests can, as Sean Cavanagh has suggested, be played over a four to five day period, the one test format might just be the way to go. And GAA director general Páraic Duffy is correct when he stresses the importance of a test in Dublin supersedes one in New York.
Perhaps Croke Park next year followed by the series taking place in the US in 2016 before returning to Australia might be a plan. That way, both the GAA and AFL would have had the opportunity to raise funds for the foreign test. With talk of the Australians’ pensions being bumped up and appearance fees for representing their country, their commitment to the concept doesn’t appear as noble as Ireland’s.
At least at a central level, the GAA’s faithfulness to it has never wavered. If International Rules is to flourish, they should be the ones talking and the AFL listening.
Reading the reaction from home to the retirements of two greats in Declan O’Sullivan and Tommy Walsh, there seemed to be an agreement that the likes of these men should be honoured for their contributions to the sport.
A couple of people suggested RTÉ might broadcast an annual end-of-year show commemorating these players’ achievements. A nice idea but there’s always going to be somebody left out. Besides, Laochra Gael does an exquisite job in chronicling the great careers.
Tomas Colton, GPA national development officer, put forward another couple of proposals. “Too often our best players simply ‘retire’,” he wrote before adding, “A date in mid December when each county properly recognises county players retired that year, especially players with 10 or more years service.
“A game could be played at a venue to suit. Maybe an east v west or north v south game with county manager selecting teams. Voluntary donations at the gate can raise funds for charity, past players group, county training fund??? Is the status quo still acceptable?”
He makes a fair point. However, we should also accept how players wish to handle announcing these seismic decisions. Sometimes calling it quits on their own terms is more than enough. Heaven knows there’s plenty never afforded that privilege.
The topic of cabin fever raised by Ireland coach Nicholas Walsh after Saturday’s game was an interesting one. Privately, the same complaint had been made by players in Melbourne also.
Were there a first test, there would likely never have been an issue. Minds would have been able to focus almost as soon as the party stepped off the plane at Tullamarine airport.
But, because there was so much time to kill, there was so much to ponder and, as Walsh indicated, the local press weren’t exactly hiding the fact Ireland were facing the best in the AFL business. It clearly preyed on their thoughts.
The physical difference between Gaelic footballers and AFL are minimal but this episode encapsulated the contrast that still exists mentally between the groups.
As an aside, it’s a disappointment Ireland didn’t win for another reason: only then would our footage of Tony Scullion’s ultra-inspirational speech at last Wednesday’s night’s training been appropriate to broadcast!
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