Ireland’s attempt to win back some dignity in the international rules series ended in a rout by Australia: 69-31. It was all a far cry from the perhaps too civilised first leg. One Irish player, Graham Geraghty, ended up unconscious for half an hour and was eventually taken to hospital. Three others were ‘taken out’ by another ‘physical performance’ by Australia. Even the Australian coach Kevin Sheedy seemed to recognise this time that a seam has opened up in the compromise code that could end the only opportunity both countries have to playing competitive matches against another nation.Nicky Brennan refuses to be drawn on the future of the game. But two questions will surely be asked:
– Is the code just loose enough to allow the two sides to play their own separate games? Interesting that Ireland coach Sean Boylan targeted the Australian umpire Shane McInerney for bias. But it may be that the extraordinary levels of disorder on the pitch are par for the course in Australia. For instance, there was a full scale brawl going on as Australia scored their first goal after three minutes. Either the rules need tightening, or the refs need to be given a clear idea of what is acceptable on pitch behaviour, and what is not.
– We may also be witnessing the mismatch of amateur and professional codes. The Aussies may be rougher on the pitch, but their full time time players are fitter and faster and play to the end of every game. In picking a professionalised code to partner with the GAA may now be hitting the pain barrier that northern hemisphere Rugby Union had to face about ten or fifteen years ago. If Ireland is to regain its competitiveness in any future matches, maybe it has to look at how it can produce players of comparative fitness. Questioning its amateur status has to be part of that, surely?
Perhaps one of the reasons why things have got more ugly in the last few tests is that these games are taking on greater importance to the players and their supporters, as the record attendance yesterday indicates. Ireland (by far the more injured of the two parties) should think very carefully before backing out of any future arrangements.
These series gives the Association in Australia an incredible boost every year. The Aussies who now choose to play it (albeit as a second or third sport) often do so not because of heritage but because they aspire to the high skill sets of the Ireland teams they see play each year in the International Tests.
But they are also a powerful incentive for GAA players to benchmark themselves against another country. It is to be hoped that both countries make the necessary moves to keep these annual games in business. If not, then both countries will be the poorer for its loss.
As for Australia, well… It’s just no way to win matches, or converts, to its own, home grown, code.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty