The Australian coach named a 22-man squad late last week, one which includes only six players – Matthew Boyd, Dustin Fletcher, Adam Goodes, Brad Green, Leigh Montagna and Kade Simpson – who have played the hybrid code before.
“We know a good bit about them,” said O’Brien of the visitors. “We have had a lot of reports about their players and what to expect and they are an athletic lot. They are good footballers but they aren’t the biggest in the world.
“Most AFL clubs were contacted about the series and most of their best players signed up. The Australians are always competitive and we’re expecting nothing less again this time in the games in Limerick and Croke Park.”
The former Wicklow All Star was in the Gaelic Grounds recently and was struck by the strength of the wind and rain blowing across the Shannonside venue and is hoping for something similar for the first test as the Australians are not used to playing in such conditions.
It will take more than the elements to retain the Cormac McAnallen Trophy, however, and O’Brien has been enthused by the time and effort put in by players and management who will meet for their eighth weekend of preparations later this week.
“There has been a fantastic commitment by everyone. Players have been available week after week, even those lads who have had club commitments as well. We couldn’t have asked for any more from any of them.”
O’Brien was tight-lipped as to the make-up of the Irish squad which Anthony Tohill will announce at Croke Park on Thursday afternoon although Benny Coulter is now a doubt after suffering an injury whilst on club duty on Sunday.
Both sides have agreed to limit their numbers to 23.
The series has been mired in difficulties in recent times with a moratorium called after scenes of unacceptable violence in the mid-noughties and last year’s was cancelled at the behest of the AFL due to financial reasons.
There is also a sense that the rules have been tweaked too far in favour of the amateur Irish players with eight minutes shaved off the playing clock, limits placed on interchanges and consecutive hand passes and tighter disciplinary restraints being imposed.
However, O’Brien believes that the latest chapter will lack nothing in the way of entertainment and believes that the physical side of the game will never be lost completely.
“It will be physical because it is their nature to tackle. It is part of their game and we have to adapt to that just like they have to adapt to other aspects of it. I’m confident we will be able to do that because we have put together a strong, talented squad. It was extremely hard to pick it, in fact. The players have made our decisions very difficult and that is what you want.”