Australia can improve, warns Crawford

SHANE CRAWFORD, captain of the Australian team which is close to making history against Ireland in the second test in the International Rules Series in Melbourne tomorrow, is almost afraid to think of what it will be like to win.

And manager Gary Lyon doesn't want to think of losing.

The one thing Crawford is reasonably confident about is that the home team can better their form from the first Test: "Like the Irish, we feel there is a bit of improvement in us. We will be hopeful of being able to use the ball a little bit better and not give the Irish such a big early start," he said.

"It was a fantastic experience to win in front of the West Australia crowd. All the guys who hadn't played before have been talking all the week about it. They want the same in front of the Melbourne crowd. Hopefully, our improvement will be good enough to get us across the line." The winning captain in Croke Park last year, Crawford said he had thought a little about what it would be like to lift the trophy in front of the home supporters, given that Melbourne is the home of Aussie Rules football. "But I am trying not to get too far ahead of myself. "Once you start thinking of what's going to happen, it doesn't happen like that. We have been working very hard. We went down to Portsea for two days, had a bit of a camp together and rested up a little bit. We would expect that a few good sessions in the MCG will get us fired up."

Gary Lyon was amused to be asked by one of the Irish journalists what would happen if Australia failed to win. His answer was direct and to the point. "We're just going to go out and win the game," he said.

"That's what we want to do and we'll suffer the consequences if we don't." Interestingly, while he said initially he had been impressed by everyone on the Irish team, he picked out Steven McDonnell as one of the key players. Facing up to Matthew Scarlett, their "All-Australian" full-back, Lyon felt the Armagh star made Scarlett "look ordinary" when he scored four three-pointers in the opening quarter. "We got carved up the middle when we thought that would be an advantage to us. I don't want to put Shane under pressure, but he had a quiet game by his standards. We were fortunate that we got the first six-pointer and that was an own-goal. "I said in Perth that it was only half-time in the series and that's how I look on it," he added.

In addition to Scarlett and Bickley being absentees through suspension, another member of the squad, Jess Sinclair, has been ruled out through injury. "We're down to the bare numbers, which is a worry," added Lyon.

It emerged later in the day that Jason Akermanis had been put on stand-by in the event of any further injuries. Akermanis last played in the 2000 series in Ireland when he caused considerable annoyance on the Irish side by his aggressive "man-marking" of Peter Canavan, who had been one of the Irish stars in Australia the previous year. Subsequently, he received a three-match ban after one incident.

AFL Press Officer Patrick Keane said 40,000 tickets had been pre-sold compared to 10,000 by the same period two years ago.

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