Emotions run high as Ireland relishes its golden win in rules

IF you find yourself tempted to think this International Rules business is really just a bit of a lark, then think about what it means to Ciaran McManus.

Last year the Offaly midfielder cried a river of tears after Ireland came up seven points short of a series win in the second test in Melbourne.

Emotions were equally high for the man from Tubber yesterday in Croke Park, but thankfully they were of a very different nature.

"This is our Olympics. It's our gold medal," McManus gushed afterwards.

"Pete McGrath keeps saying it; you're the elite, even if you don't feel like it. You're picked as one of the best players in the country.

"There's so many lads you owe this to when you're out there. The pressure is on to perform. It's your national team, the whole country is behind you and that's something special."

Tadhg Kennelly, one of Ireland's best players yesterday and of the entire series, was another for who yesterday's game was a special occasion. He may be intent on returning to play Gaelic football in a Kerry jersey some day, but this series has again reminded him of what he has had to forgo to fulfil his professional dream down under.

"It was something I realised walking around in the parade. I said to myself; 'My God, I'm in Croke Park', I don't play a whole lot here and I want to make the most of it and enjoy it.

"It really hit home to me today that I'm not here every week like some of these boys."

It was the absence of another former star that permeated the air around the Irish dressing-room most yesterday however. With the Cormac McAnallen Cup on offer for the

victors for the first time, the former Tyrone player was never far from the thoughts of his former team-mates this past fortnight, particularly at half-time with the tourists holding a six-point lead that could have been at least double that.

"Pete [McGrath] wasn't too happy at half-time," Tyrone's Sean Cavanagh conceded.

"Last week people were saying that it was a case of the Australians being bad, not us being good and we wanted to prove those critics wrong. It was important for us to beat them after they'd had the week acclimatising.

"Pete reminded us what Cormac McAnallen would have done in this situation. Pete really fired us up.

"Cormac was such a good Irish player and I hope we all made him proud in the second half."

In the end they 'won' the second half by more than double scores 32-15 to claim the two individual tests as well as the series outright, but they were pinned to their collars in the first half by a pent-up Australian side fuming at last week's humiliation.

Even before the ball was thrown in, the temperature soared with Ciaran McDonald and Tadhg Kennelly squaring up to a posse of Australians.

Within minutes Joe Bergin and James Hird were on their way to the sin bin, while Max Hudghton and McDonald followed suit.

Whoever was first to lift the fuse, the fact is that, where Ireland revel in motion, the Aussies are masters of mayhem. It may have taken the Irish players two quarters to realise that, but they did finally come to their senses.

"There's no point in us trying to play Australian Rules," said Kennelly later. "I've got used to the physical aspect to the game from my time over there and our lads stood up to them that way today and didn't retaliate. Retaliation is what the Aussies wanted because we're good footballers and they didn't want us playing football.

"Maybe the jetlag had worn off the Australians," Cavanagh said.

"They were definitely that bit more physical. I can tell you that from first-hand experience. The Australians were up for it today but we wanted to win that game today. We didn't want to win on the aggregate score.

Amid all the criticism of the Australians during the week, the fact Ireland have stopped a losing streak stretching into a third year seems to have escaped most people. Not

Galway's Joe Bergin though.

"We lost the last two series and the pressure was on us to win this one. It wasn't a great performance by us this week by any means but we're just delighted we won the series and the two tests."

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