Not bad, even without dust-ups

ALL THIS serious business must be catching on. For all the sombre mood, the discussion of being in the last-chance saloon and one wrong move away from ending it all, we could well have stumbled across a repeat of Questions and Answers pondering the budget yesterday, when it was in fact Michael Lyster and co chatting about the International Rules Series.

A game famous mainly for everyone tuning in hoping for a few schamozzles while simultaneously denouncing them as a disgrace. Martin Carney said that they were playing for the future of the series; Kieran McGeeney reckoned the accountability aspect would help keep things relatively clean (cue disappointed punters around the country).

So what’d we learn from this? Well, not an awful pile we didn’t already know. If the opening quarter brought to mind that overly-sanitised dullness of the opener in Salthill a couple of years ago, the rest of the game actually wasn’t half bad, giving at least some suggestion that the concept can be vaguely entertaining without the adrenaline boost of a few decent dust-ups. That Ireland still haven’t quite figured out the tackle stands out as a pretty important factor through a stalemate opening 18 minutes – and for the whole game in fact – as they coughed up ball after ball by bringing it into contact while the Aussies have their own problems with the round ball.

Kieran McGeeney made the accurate point at the break that the Irish players were getting guys into trouble by giving dodgy fist passes in tight areas while Carney stated that the Australians were much better at tackling and support play. Even Ger Canning got confused as Stevie McDonnell was hauled down (perfectly legally of course) when through on goal in the second quarter and called for a penalty, while co-commentator Heath Black chuckled in the background that it must be hard for the Irish players to adapt to being laid out whenever they grab a ball. Indeed.

A booming third quarter for the Irish – they won it 22-9 – made plain just how gamechanging goals can be in a six-points-for-hitting-the-net world. Ireland’s knack of nosing out a couple of goals along with Australia’s lack on defensive instinct in dealing with goal opportunities served up a cracker from Sean Cavanagh and a scrambled effort from McDonnell. Again at the break Martin Carney pointed out the absence of a proper goalie for Australia as a major weakness.

Ger Canning began the fourth quarter with the slighty-offensive-yet-valid implication that the hosts could become a tad physical when losing quite badly, though Black reckoned they would be backing their fitness more. Which turned out to be more accurate – though we did get our one monster hit that earned Campbell Brown a yellow card and bizarrely a standing ovation – as the Australians upped their intensity and pace to kick themselves back into the game by the end.

Lyster wasn’t slow to point out the excellence of the Aussies kicking for points compared to the Irish – it finished 12-6 on overs scored. Still, McGeeney and Carney gave an enthusiastic thumbs up as their verdict. “Much better than anticipated after the first quarter,” Carney enthused, pointing out that there was plenty thumping hits without anything over the top.

An enjoyable day out then, even if Lyster couldn’t help putting an asterisk in with the question of whether the Aussies might up the ante physically next week. For now though, the series stumbles on.


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