Game on as Irish edge fair fight

FOR a pleasant change, a good news story from the International Rules Series.

The concept looks back on the tracks after all the hard talking at official level following the disaster in Croke Park two years ago produced the desired result of an honourable contest in the rain in Subiaco Oval last night.

Football was ‘a huge winner,’ declared victorious manager Sean Boylan after his team hung on for victory in a nervous fourth quarter. And, given the equally positive vibes from the Australian camp there is the promise of another sporting contest in the second test in the MCG on Friday.

Much more important than the result — only the second time that a single point separated the sides since Australia won 62/61 in Croke Park 10 years ago — was the behaviour of the teams. The game was tough and physical, but it had nothing of the ugliness of the second test in Dublin in 2006 or the nastiness of the 2005 game in Melbourne.

Boylan was overjoyed with the result — and the spectacle.

“I thought that tonight, football was a huge winner and (so was) good sportsmanship. It was an honour for me to be out there. But, more importantly it was an honour for Sean (Cavanagh) and Graham (Canty, captain and vice-captain respectively) to lead the lads on the field of play because that was where it all happened.’’

While all acknowledged there was room for improvement — not least in the area of getting more quality ball into the inside players — there was a lot to admire in the way the team set about winning at a venue where they lost 100/65 on their last visit to Perth.

They proved themselves more adept at tackling — something at which Canty, in his 11th test appearance — excelled at. If anything was decisive it was the three goals — “something we spoke about before the game,’’ said Cavanagh.

He continued: “In previous tests we always seemed to get plenty of goal-scoring opportunities. Certainly we should play to our strengths and our strength is probably getting goals.’’

The first of the game came from Leighton Glynn, one of 13 ‘debutants’ and only the third player to represent Wicklow in the series. Finishing third highest scorer with 10 points, he made a major contribution with strong running and visionary play. So too did goalkeeper David Gallagher, whose selection was widely questioned. Apart from saving an early penalty (admittedly struck poorly) his handling of the ball and distribution was superb.

With Marty McGrath, Killian Young and Paul Finlay the three unlucky players not be included in the playing panel, Ireland achieved more in an opening quarter in which both teams were slow to start. Notably, crowding out the half-back line was to prove crucial in denying space to the Australian runners until near the end.

Leading 9/1 going into the second quarter, Sean Cavanagh was proving effective in the type of role perfected with Tyrone, Benny Coulter and Stephen McDonnell were threatening in attack and at the other end Finian Hanley was to establish at early advantage at full-back.

Glynn’s goal came quickly, opening a 14 points advantage which could have been greater but for a vital tackle after Kieran Donaghy turned over a ball in midfield. However, Australia came strongly into the game, getting four overs (three-pointers) in a short period. It meant that Ireland fell behind briefly until McDonnell pressure yielded a one-pointer to level the scores at the break at 19-each.

Traditionally vulnerable in the third quarter, Ireland again surged ahead thanks to their goal-scoring expertise — the first was from Cavanagh (created by Donaghy) with the other from McDonnell, after clear play from Coulter.

Donaghy had found it difficult to make an impact up to then, but after going to midfield — with Canty, who used his experience to bolster the defence — he was to be quite influential. Additionally, Aidan O’Mahony and Bryan Cullen did some excellent work around the half-back line, while others like Enda McGinley, Joe McMahon, Paddy Bradley and Ciaran Lyng were seen to greater effect.

It was 41/28 in favour of the visitors entering the final quarter and scores from Meehan and Glynn increased their lead to 17 points. Much better finishing from Australia saw the lead reduced to seven points before they had a player yellow-carded for a tackle on Hanley and being dismissed.

In spite of that handicap, the holders were gaining much more possession and, crucially, it was to be rewarded with some good finishing, with Marc Murphy always prominent. Ireland, meanwhile, failed to add to their early total, although Bradley promised a goal until he was taken down by a (legitimate) tackle minutes before the final whistle.

While voicing his concern that his team twice had big leads pegged back, Boylan accepted that they could ‘quite as easily’ have ended up losing the game. “All I can say is that I was absolutely thrilled with our own team the way they played and I though the Australians were fantastic. I know we made plenty of mistakes, but at least these are things you can work on.’’

*The referring was arguably the best in the series.

Scorers for Ireland: S. Cavanagh 13, L. Glynn 10, S. McDonnell 8, K. Donaghy, C. Lyng and P. Bradley 3 each, M. Meehan 2, B. Cullen, Joe McMahon and K. Reilly 1 each.

Scorers for Australia: M. Murphy 12, M. Campbell 8, S. Thompson 6, B. Harvey and L. Montagna 4 each, D. Rodan and M. Osborne 3 each, J. Brennan 2, R. Hayden and D. Motlop 1 each.

IRELAND: D. Gallagher; A. O’Mahony, F. Hanley, J. Keane; B. Cullen, K. Reilly, C. McKeever; G. Canty, C. Begley; E. McGinley, S. Cavanagh (capt.), J. McMahon; S McDonnell, K. Donaghy, B. Coulter. Inter-change players: A. Kernan, T. Parsons, M. Meehan, J. Miskella, P. O’Neill, P. Bradley, J. McMahon, L. Glynn, C. Lyng.

AUSTRALIA: M. Bock; M. Firitte, B. Sewell, C. Brown; R. Crowley; D. Petrie, A. Selwood, B. Harvey (capt.); S. Thomson, S. Pendlebury, D. Motlop, D. Rodan; M. Osborne, S. Burgoyne, M. Campbell. Inter-change: D. Wells, M. Murphy, M. Boyd, K. Simpson, L. Montagna, D. Thomas, J. Brennan, N. Foley, R. Hayden.

Referees: Pat McEnaney (Ireland) and Steve McBirney (Australia) Attendance: 35,153 (39,098 in 2005).


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