It seemed appropriate that there was finally some sparkle on show after a night where the sterile fare in the Gaelic Grounds left the 30,117 supporters in attendance distinctly underwhelmed.
The initiative lies with the Australians after a sub-standard first test and they head to Dublin for Saturday’s second test in a buoyant mood. That Ireland still have tangible hopes of success will be a source of solace for both the GAA and AFL chiefs. At one juncture on Saturday night the second test looked set to be a non-event as Australia would have constructed an unassailable advantage.
With seven minutes to go, Australia soared 47-29 in front after their brilliant captain Adam Goodes split the posts for an over that brought his personal tally to an impressive 12 points. But Ireland managed to shake off their hitherto lethargy to rack up 11 points before the finish. The centre piece of that scoring burst was in the 67th minute when the keen awareness of Leighton Glynn release Bernard Brogan and he scorched through the centre of the Australia rearguard before slamming the ball to the net. The strike raised the solitary green flag of the night and perhaps may have save the concept this year.
Ireland have huge scope for improvement ahead of next weekend. There were deficiencies in several aspects of their performance, most notably from the behinds they registered that could easily have been translated into overs. Tadhg Kennelly, Sean Cavanagh, Tommy Walsh and Marty Clarke were all culpable in this regard. Ireland didn’t carry enough attacking punch with the delivery to the inside attackers inexact and their play frequently got bogged down around the middle as they attempted overly elaborate soccer style moves.
Ireland boss Anthony Tohill’s response to the query of what went wrong on the night was telling.
“How long have you got? We seemed to be very nervous and jittery in possession, and we made a lot of mistakes.
“It took us a long time to find our feet. Credit to Australia, they made it very, very difficult.
“We thought we were well prepared but obviously we were not good enough.
“If you look at it, we had 19 scores and they had 19 scores. But 10 of ours were behinds and we would have expected a higher return from our forwards. We created scoring opportunities, as many as they did, but they were more efficient.”
Tohill’s reference to the scoring statistics was salient. Australia’s total of 14 overs was impressive as they attuned their radar in front of goal successfully. Goodes was to the fore in this regard but Daniel Cross, Eddie Betts and Todd Banfield also chipped in. St Kilda’s Leigh Montagna launched over a couple of outstanding long-range kicks from the left wing in the third quarter as well, during a phase where Australia totted up 10 points in four minutes to surge 32-19 in front.
Australia’s defensive operations were splendid. They hunted in packs, swarmed around Irish players in possession and brought their mobility to bear by raiding upfield in numbers. The goalkeeper position may be alien to Dustin Fletcher but he gave an assured display.
“The way they play as a 14-man unit, they defended and attacked all together,” noted Tohill. “We were out-numbered in a lot of contests and they worked the ball well in the scoring zone and that was what we were trying to do as well. “There was a fair bit of pressure out there but we should have been more composed.”
For Ireland, Stephen Cluxton was always comfortable when it came to kick starting moves, Graham Canty mopped up possession all night and Kevin McKernan made a big impact when introduced. Their standout player was Leighton Glynn whose boundless energy saw him play an integral role. But as a team they need to play with greater abandon and replicating that stirring finale next Saturday is critical.
“Maybe it was when we reverted to Gaelic football at the end of the game that we actually played our best football”, admitted Tohill. “We ran at them, moved the ball at pace, supported the play well. We would like to think we will improve immensely before next week. We need to.”
Scorers for Australia: A Goodes (12), D Cross (6), E Betts (6), T Banfield (6), L Montagna (6), J Frawley (3), P Dangerfield (3), M Boyd (2), K Simpson (2), K Jack (1).
Scorers for Ireland: B Brogan (9), S McDonnell (8), S Cavanagh (7), T Walsh (4), D Goulding (3, L Glynn (3), K McKernan (3), K Reilly (1), M Clarke (1), T Kennelly (1),
IRELAND: S Cluxton, C McKeever, F Hanley, B Donaghy, S McDermott, G Canty, K Reilly, C Begley, T Kennelly, L Glynn, S McDonnell, S Cavanagh, B Brogan, T Walsh, M Clarke.
Interchange players: E Bolton, K McKernan, C McKeever, P Keenan, B Murphy, M Murphy, N McNamee, J Kavanagh, , D Goulding,
AUSTRALIA: T Varcoe, B Gibbs, J McVeigh, D Cross, M Boyd, K Simpson, J Frawley, J Riewoldt, G Ibbotson, L Montagna, S Gilbert, K Jack.
Interchange players: T Banfield, B Green, E Betts, D Fletcher, P Dangerfield, D Swan, A Goodes, D Wojcinski, P Duffield.
Referees: D Coldrick (Ireland), B Rosebury (Australia).