Fighting Irish leave us wanting more

Australia 56 (0-17-5) Ireland 46 (2-9-7)

International Rules has had its fair share of pillorying. A lot of the times, justifiable criticism too. But on this occasion it earned its garlands. This left us wanting more.

Both teams seemed dissatisfied too the contest had to end on a balmy evening in Subiaco’s Patersons Stadium: Ireland because they had left it too late to discover playing their natural game was best practice; Australia for the fact they wanted to see what would be thrown at them in a second test.

“We’d like another test in the sense that so many of the series have been two-test series and hopefully that will be the case if we play abroad next season,” said Australia coach Alastair Clarkson. “These guys have enjoyed it so much and I’ve enjoyed it so much that it’s a shame there isn’t another seven or eight days to see if we can improve again and see if the Irish could respond. Their loss might have made a greater contest in the second game.”

The revenge mission will have to wait a year and as captain Michael Murphy admitted, it’s sure to eat at the Ireland players for quite some time. The force of their comeback was electric, outscoring Australia 22-11 in the third quarter and 16-10 in the fourth.

Shooting four overs and having a hand in Ireland’s first goal, Conor McManus was a deserved Irish man of the match but Tyrone pair Mattie Donnelly and Sean Cavanagh weren’t too far behind them.

Donnelly was a standout performer when Ireland were at their poorest in the first half. A combination of remarkably good shooting from Steve Johnson and Nick Riewoldt with some fragile Irish plays saw the Australians conquer both opening quarters, winning the first 22-4 and the second 13-4.

“We were doing a lot of the right things but we were just uncharacteristically inaccurate with our kicking,” regretted Paul Earley. “Now, part of that is down to the pressure from Australia but part of it was down to poor decision-making at times.

“We tried to force the game a bit in the second quarter when we had some chances to take three-pointers and we probably went for goals when we should have just popped them over and just got the scoreboard ticking.”

But that was not the extent of Ireland’s malaise. They were playing a brand of football foreign to themselves, claiming marks when quick ball was the better option, while the Australians continued to kick more than them. There were also unforced errors such as Colm Begley, Aidan Walsh and Lee Keegan kicking ball straight into the hands of opponents. It could have been so much worse in the opening quarter too had Paddy O’Rourke not deflected a goalbound Brent Harvey shot over the bar.

One area where Ireland impressed was the new 45 metre-plus kickouts where there had been a concern they would lose out. “We felt if we were able to win the midfield contest, we’d win the game with our kicking skills,” Earley remarked, “I don’t know the percentage but we did win the contests in the middle of the field so very, very pleased with that.”

Before Kevin McKernan’s beautiful over in the third quarter, the score of the game came from Riewoldt five minutes before half-time. After winning a mark, he then made himself available in the subsequent play to angle an over. Again, Ireland were living dangerously in the second period, Finian Hanley having to pull off a great mark on the line to deny the impressive Chad Wingard a goal.

Deciding to revert to what they knew best after the interval, Ireland prospered. “Going in at half-time, we were still fairly confident,” recalled Michael Murphy. “We had played absolutely nothing in that half whatsoever. We were battling well but not executing our basic skills the way we wanted. Once we started doing that, we started to get a bit of joy.”

Ireland were fortunate that Australia didn’t win a sideline in the build-up to Darren Hughes’s goal but when it arrived, the stadium came alive. McManus provided the lay-off and duly added two further overs in the half along with Donnelly.

With the margin down to 16 and a quarter to go, Ireland’s tails were up and the chase was well and truly on after Colm Begley curled an over. But then overs from Wingard and Kieren Jack smothered the riposte. A Nick Smith own goal served only as a consolation score for Ireland as they were left to rue the awful start.

So no violence but no shortage of aggression either. Hopefully, this test will go some way to proving that Ireland are now too big and bold to be classified as victims. “The discipline of the group was first class,” said Clarkson. “We wanted to play tough, hard football and we did that. We know the Irish are very passionate about their football too. We wanted to make sure we ran the game with our feet and our hands, not with our fists.

“It was played in great spirit tonight with the rules of the game which are hybrid for both sides. There needs to be a certain tolerance with the different rules and the lack of understanding but that was there, which made it good.”

Scorers for Australia: S Johnson 12 (0-4-0); N Riewoldt 10 (0-3-1); C Wingard 9 (0-3-0); L Breust 4 (0-1-1); B Harvey 3 (0-1-0); J Selwood 3 (0-1-0); J McVeigh 6 (0-2-0); R Gray 5 (0-1-2); K Jack 3 (0-1-0); B Smith 1 (0-0-1).

Scorers for Ireland: C McManus 12 (0-4-0); D Hughes 7 (1-0-1); M Donnelly 6 (0-2-0); N Smith 6 own goal (1-0-0); M Murphy 3 (0-1-0); K McKernan 3 (0-1-0); C Begley 3 (0-1-0); P Hanley 2 (0-0-2); S Cavanagh 2 (0-0-2); C O’Neill 1 (0-0-1); D Moran 1 (0-0-1).

AUSTRALIA: 31. D Fletcher (Essendon); 16. K Jack (Sydney Swans), 7. H Taylor (Geelong), 33. B Smith (Adelaide); 5. S Mitchell (Hawthorn), 15. L Hodge (Hawthorn), 3. J McVeigh (Sydney Swans); 8. N Natanui (Western Bulldogs), 14. J Selwood (Geelong); 29. B Harvey (North Melbourne), 10. R Gray (Port Adelaide), 20. S Johnson (Geelong); 21. C Wingard (Port Adelaide), 22. L Breust (Hawthorn), 4. J Watson (Essendon).

Interchanges: 1. T Boak (Port Adelaide), 2. G Birchall (Hawthorn), 9. B Goddard (Essendon), 11. L Montagna (St Kilda), 12. N Riewoldt (St Kilda), 32. P Dangerfield (Adelaide); 33. B Smith (Adelaide), 38. T Rockliff (Brisbane Lions).

IRELAND: 23. P O’Rourke (Meath), 12. N McGee (Donegal), 6. F Hanley (Galway), 11. C McDonald (Tipperary); 13. C McKaigue (Derry), 10. J McCarthy (Dublin), 9. L Keegan (Mayo); 17. D Moran (Kerry), P Hanley (Mayo/Brisbane Lions); 3. S Cavanagh (Tyrone), 20. M Murphy (Donegal), 1. C Begley (Laois); 21. C O’Neill (Cork), 24. A O’Shea (Mayo), 16. C McManus (Monaghan).

Interchanges: 2. C Boyle (Mayo), 4. C Cregg (Roscommon), 5. M Donnelly (Tyrone), 8. D Hughes (Monaghan), 14. K McKernan (Down), 15. K McLoughlin (Mayo), 19. R Munnelly (Laois), 25. A Walsh (Cork).

Umpires: S Meredith (Australia), Marty Duffy (Ireland).

Game-changer

Australia’s stunning opening two quarters. Their shooting was so on the money while Ireland’s left so much to be desired.

Talk of the town

The quality of fare once Ireland found their feet. This was a test both the GAA and AFL can build from.

Did that just happen?

Nick Smith’s own goal. Spectacularly done.

Best on show

Luke Hodge was voted man of the match but our choice was Steve Johnson. His kicking was excellent. Conor McManus and Mattie Donnelly fuelled Ireland’s revival.

Sideline superior

Alastair Clarkson’s zonal operations made life so difficult for Ireland. When Paul Earley convinced his players to return to their natural game they flourished.

The men in black

Some strange decisions by both officials but in an intense game with new rules it was expected.

What’s next?

New York? Dublin? Likely the latter next November.

IRELAND: Match stats

Disposals (possessions)

1. Sean Cavanagh 20

2.Pearce Hanley 15

2. Lee Keegan 15

4. Colm Begley 14

5. David Moran 13

5. Paddy O’Rourke 13

Marks

1. Sean Cavanagh 6

2. David Moran 5

3. Paddy O’Rourke 5

4. Michael Murphy 4

5. Aidan Walsh 4


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