STEVEN McDONNELL has admitted leading Ireland to International Rules success would rank alongside his sole All-Ireland success.
The veteran Armagh forward has been handed the armband for Saturday’s opening test against Australia at Limerick’s Gaelic Grounds. He follows fellow Ulster man Sean Cavanagh in the role and admits he’ll take inspiration from other captains he has played under like Padraic Joyce and, with Armagh, Kieran McGeeney.
If he could emulate Cavanagh by winning the Cormac McAnallen Cup on behalf of Ireland he reckons it would be as proud a moment as when he helped claim the Sam Maguire in 2002.
“An All-Ireland is very special and it’s hard to rank one achievement above another,” said McDonnell.
“That’s because everything you win as a footballer is special and something you look back upon when you retire.
“But, certainly, if we get to win the series it would be up there with the top awards or anything I’ve ever won.”
The common consensus is that it’s going to be a series high on pace and skill, which should favour the hosts.
McDonnell revealed that Ireland have been practicing their soccer skills in a bid to move the ball on quickly and not get caught up in the tackle, Australian’s chief strength.
“Soccer skills in this game are very important, especially for forwards,” said the Killeavy man. “When you know you’re going to get wrapped up in a tackle and the ball bounces in front of you that’s the time to play it on.
“If you are tackled at that stage, and the ball is gone, you’ve got yourself a free. So we’ve been working on that and we’ll also be using our natural skills to keep the ball in our possession and moving.”
The soccer practice may ultimately help Ireland to score more goals – worth six points in the hybrid game – which have often eluded them in previous tests.
“If we can the ball into the likes of Michael Murphy and Benny Coulter, who are more than capable of getting goals, then we have a good chance of winning,” said McDonnell.
Meanwhile, Offaly’s Niall McNamee has been drafted in as the 23rd man on Ireland’s squad. Boss Anthony Tohill left a vacancy to accommodate Down’s Coulter who won’t be available until the second test at Croke Park on Saturday week due to a hamstring injury.
It’s understood Tohill is preparing to play both Leighton Glynn and Brendan Murphy in the first test, despite the fact both have important club games the following afternoon.
Glynn will be part of the Rathnew team that takes on Skryne in the Leinster Club championship while Murphy’s Rathvilly must take on Old Leighlin again in the Carlow SFC final replay which has been scheduled for Sunday at 3.45pm.
Down’s Kevin McKernan will find himself in the same position the following weekend when his Burren club are due out in the Ulster Club SFC, less than 24 hours after Ireland host the Aussies at Croke Park.
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