Ireland 57 (2-12-9) Australia 35 (1-7-8)
Ireland have a 22-point cushion going into next Saturday’s second International Rules Test after coming through a tough clash against Australia at Kingspan Breffni Park.
Goals from Zac Tuohy and Kevin McLoughlin helped Paul Earley’s side take a grip on the series in front of a big crowd at the Cavan venue.
Australia’s indigenous team had been expected to test their hosts for pace, but it was the Irish who had the tourists on the back foot for most of the contest, with the exception of a difficult spell in the third quarter.
A sporting encounter witnessed just a couple of minor flare-ups, but the pressure is on Mick O’Loughlin’s Australian side to find a way to unsettle their opponents at the home of gaelic games next weekend.
Skipper Michael Murphy played a major role in the game, despite his club’s involvement in tomorrow's Donegal SFC final, and displayed leadership and inspiration throughout.
The Australians were unable to use their pace to trouble their opponents, clearly struggling with the round ball despite all the pre-match talk about their skills.
And it was Ireland who won the tactical game as well in the opening quarter, their clever support play and sensible use of the mark giving them a significant advantage.
The visitors managed just one over, through Steven Motlop in the early stages, and the hosts soon assumed control, with Ross Munnelly and skipper Michael Murphy both showing well up front, and hitting some eye-catching scores.
The pair kicked two overs each, while Munnelly’s quick-thinking use of the mark set former Aussie Rules player Colm Begley up for a well crafted score.
Ireland led by 17-4 at the end of the opening quarter, and while they found themselves under pressure in the early stages of the second quarter, with Lance Franklin of Sydney Swans inspiring the visitors, normal service was soon resumed.
Jack McCaffrey made a series of trademark runs from deep, slicing through the Aussie cover on a couple of occasions, one of which led to a penalty call when paddy McBrearty was hauled to the ground.
Franklin landed an impressive score, but the Irish responded with overs from Louth’s Ciaran Byrne, Mayo midfielder Aidan O’Shea and Tyrone’s Sean Cavanagh to turn around with a 28-9 advantage at the halfway stage.
After a solid start to the ‘championship’ quarter, Ireland were forced to absorb heavy pressure from a resurgent Australian side.
Colm Boyle and Paul Conroy carved the opening for AFL player Zac Tuohy to blast home a goal, and Ciaran Sheehan had a chance to add a second when sent in by Cavanagh, but dragged his shot wide.
But Australian began to move the ball with more purpose and a new-found precision, and when Eddie Betts crossed from the right to the unmarked Jake Neade, the Port Adelaide man beat goalkeeper Paddy O’Rourke with a low finish.
They tagged on overs through Lewis Jetta and Alwyn Davey, and the third session ended with Ireland’s lead cut back to 12, still ahead by 39 points to 27.
Matthew Stokes landed another Aussie over, and they missed a glorious goal chgance when Eddie Betts and Steven Maltop combined for the latter to smash the ball against the crossbar with the net gaping.
But the Irish had another gear, and stepped it up in the closing stages, getting in for a second goal. The Australian defence failed to clear Murphy’s delivery from the left, and Kevin McLoughlin gathered to drill the ball home.
And they added overs through Colm Boyle and Conor McManus to give themselves a 22-point cushion heading into next Saturday’s second Test at Croke Park.
Ireland: P O’Rourke, C McKaigue, P Hanley, N McGee, L Keegan, Z Tuohy (1-0-0), J McCaffrey (0-0-1), A Walsh, S Cavanagh (0-1-0), P Flynn (0-1-1), C Byrne (0-1-1), C Sheehan (0-1-0), P McBrearty, M Murphy (0-2-1), R Munnelly (0-2-2).
Interchange players: C Begley (0-1-0), A O’Shea (0-1-0), C Boyle (0-1-0), K McLoughlin (1-0-0), C McManus (0-1-1), C Kilkenny (0-0-1), M Shields, P Conroy.
Australia: A McGrath, C Yarran, T Armstrong, C Ellis-Yolmen, J Harbrow,, N Lovett-Murray, Lewis Jetta (0-1-0), D Wells (0-0-1), L Franklin (0-1-4), M Stokes (0-1-0), J Hill, Alwyn Davey (0-1-0), S Motlop (0-2-2), L Thomas, E Betts.
Interchange players: S Edwards, S Wellingham, Leroy Jetta (0-1-0), J Neade (1-0-0), D Barry, Aaron Davey (0-0-1).
Referees: Maurice Deegan (Ire) & Matt Stevic (Aus)