Oz skipper: we’re here to play ball

NEW Australia International Rules captain Dustin Fletcher says there will be no repeat of the violence which marred last year’s test series in Melbourne.

The Essendon Bombers star, confirmed Tuesday as skipper for the side’s first game against Ireland on Saturday in Galway, admitted last year’s battle was still fresh in Australian memories.

“I think that’s going to be in the back of our minds,” said Fletcher, 31 and a veteran of 13 years in the AFL.

“We can’t let an incident like that happen again. Now, with the rules, if you go a man down here the game is nearly gone. We’ll be doing our best to tackle well and get our skills right this week, but nothing is going to happen like that. This time it’ll cost you.”

Fletcher was speaking after a light run-out with the squad in Fitzgerald Stadium. The big defender rested his 6ft 6in frame awhile before heading to the Fitzgerald Stadium changing rooms. He was entitled to a rest after a roundabout journey to Kerry.

“When the season finished I went to England, and I’d been there for three weeks because it’s the only time we get to travel, but I made the big trip back through Dubai to Melbourne; Sheeds rang me when I was in England and I put my hand up to play for my country so I shot back. We got here alright, but I was one of the guys who was held up a little — it took us about 36 hours to get here from Melbourne. It’s a long trip, but we’ve settled in well now.”

“Sheeds” is Australia manager Kevin Sheedy. His standing in the Australian game derives from his attention to detail and meticulous preparation. Both were in evidence at Tuesday morning’s training session, during which the visitors ran through a variety of drills and tactical moves.

By 10.30am they’d had a team meeting. And picked their captain.

“We filled out a few sheets on what it was like to represent our country,” said Fletcher. “We named our top three or four leaders, and I was lucky enough to be chosen by the other boys to be captain for the first game.

“The questions on the sheet? They were pretty basic — why you’d put your hand up to play for your country, the kind of behaviours you’d like to see in a team environment, things like that.

“I picked Barry Hall, Michael Voss and Matty Lappin.

“Our preparations have been good. The two or three days we had before we left Melbourne were very good, the improvement’s been good even since then.

Later (yesterday) when we play our practice game, we’ll have a good idea of where we’re going.”

Where they’re going? The Australians are headed towards a collision with a fired-up Irish squad, a point Fletcher readily acknowledges.

“I know the Irish guys are very proud of their football, and we know that our winning the two games in Melbourne last year will mean they’ll come out with all guns firing. They’ve obviously been working on a few different things, they’ve had a camp away, but we’ve prepared for an Irish team that’s up for it.”

One player in particular will be recognised by the visiting squad.

“Tadhg (Kennelly), we’ve all seen videos of him and he’s been a fantastic player — I’m not sure if he’ll be tagged or just watched, but he’s a great player. There are obviously five or six Irish players we’ll be looking out for in particular, but he’ll definitely be in that group.

“We were a little surprised not to see Dessie Dolan in the squad, but now we’ll be looking at who’s going to play against us this weekend — Sheeds will recognise every one of them for sure. We’ve got a video department and every one of our guys will get a look at someone he’s going to play on, or likely to play on. We’ll know a lot of the names, but also we’ll hopefully see them before we get out on the park.”

Fletcher excelled in goal for Australia last year and is likely to line out between the sticks again this weekend. After a long season with Essendon, a trip to England and a dash back Down Under, then a day-and-a-half on the hoof before fetching up in Killarney, is the jersey worth it?

“It feels pretty good,” he said. “Representing your country is obviously pretty big, and leading them in the first game is great.”

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