October 27, 2011
Tomorrow, Ireland can level the scales.
They can bridge that frighteningly tight 13 point margin which divides ours and Australia’s aggregate score over the entire 15 International Rules series. They can take one step closer to tying the all-time standings which currently resides 8-7 in favour of our cousins in the southern hemisphere. More importantly though, they have the opportunity to set the nation on its way to our first legitimate Compromise Rules victory over Australia in 7 years (I don’t count the 2008 campaign which was blatantly designed to ease the tensions and appease an unhappy Irish contingent after they had withdrawn from the competition following the violent and humbling 2006 saga).
Tomorrow, Ireland can restore the pride of a bruised country.
I remember sitting in the Canal End for the first test of the 2004 series when I witnessed a little piece of history. Ciarán MacDonald, chastised for his gorgeous locks and fancy dan playing style, shoved every irrelevant criticism down the throats of his less fashionable compatriots as he tore the Aussies to shreds – metaphorically and physically (he was then targeted by the opposition for a pre-throw-in beating in the next game). Ireland went on to record a whopping 50 point victory (over the 2 games) and, in doing so, unleashed that infamous competitive streak that makes the Australians so hungry, so mean, and so damn dangerous. Cue: 57 and 30 point aggregate humiliations in the proceeding years as Kevin Sheedy brought his finely tuned running tactics; his outrageously well-trained athletes; his A-game.
The GAA went on to throw its expensive toys out of its gold-trimmed pram. Understandably, issues were raised regarding the brutality of aspects of the game but all the subsequent rule changes suited the Irish; all the ensuing Australian squads suited the Irish. Picking young and inexperienced players to represent their country, Australia are tip-toeing around the ‘spoil-sport’ time-bomb that is Ireland – afraid of setting it off again. This year, just 4 Aussies in their current squad have played this game before. We, as a country, are being patronised and we don’t even realise.
If there is one thing I hate, it is being disrespected; being underestimated.
And when you consider the mammoth potential of a full-strength, modern-day Irish outfit, it is genuinely surprising that our enemy is not worried more. Sean Cavanagh (boy, how I’m going to miss him exploding through the Australian defence), Benny Coulter (dido) and Marty Clarke won’t be taking part this year. Three of our best players who probably would have formed the half forward line – playing off the delicious prospect of Michael Murphy, Kieran Donaghy and Tommy Walsh inside (my mouth is watering) – would have proposed an unanswerable headache for Rodney Eade regardless of who he burdened with the impossible task of stopping them.
In that light, I’m surprised by some of Anthony Tohill’s omissions. We seem disappointingly light in the half forward line. I cannot see, therefore, how Alan Brogan has been excluded from the Derry man’s plans. Mobile, slick and energetic – and one of the best passers to boast – the Player of the Year would’ve been an automatic selection had I been in charge of team affairs, and he would’ve been perfect for the modern game. Similarly Declan O’Sullivan’s absence is the opposition’s gain; and call me bias, but I can’t help but believe that Derry’s Mark Lynch is overlooked much too easily in these squads. One of the best ball winners in intercounty football, the former under 17 Rules captain has never been given the opportunity to prove how his strength, speed and direct running can be utilised to devastating effect. We’re picking the most suitable players for this specific game remember, not an All-Star team.
Likewise, Chrissy McKaigue, having spent two years in Australia, could well have been a useful squad member whose unmatched stamina and impressive athletic ability could have been deployed to fight fires around the middle where the game is usually lost as we continuously struggle to cope with the off-the-ball running of professional sportsmen. I have just one more gripe to air (for now) before I get back to the actual 24. Aaron Kernan, in my opinion, is going to be a loss. One of the most natural post-to-post wing players in Ireland, the Crossmaglen man’s left foot could also have come in handy from the forward line or from deep. Instead, Monaghan’s Darren Hughes got the nod. A nice, footballing centre half back, sure, but when it comes to dealing with waves of attacks and an unheard of physical battle, I have some doubts.
The selection of merely old-school toughies in the full back panel is indication as to what Tohil is expecting in there. Neil McGee, Kevin Reilly and Finian Hanley will most likely have competition from Ciaran McKeever looking at how blessed we are at half back and looking at the nature of the game. And, having witnessed the Armagh man sent literally on his ass twice by Derry’s Eoin Bradley in Clones, I don’t want to see him out the field against AFL players. Joe McMahon is another welcome addition who could also do a job in the middle from an interchange if needs be.
I think we are finally prepared to counteract the Australian running game and are blessed with tailor-made athletes at half back and midfield. Karl Lacey’s role should not be underestimated as he proved to be the most influential instrument in Jim McGuiness’ disciplined orchestra this season. I think Emmet Bolton will shine in this series – I have praised his physical and technical prowess too much in the past to do so yet again. You know what to expect from a Cork player in Eoin Cadogan and, alongside newcomer McKernan, we have top-heavy options in that area – the most crucial area – to support our AFL starlets.
Colm Begley, our best player – who played 30 senior games Down Under – can be utilised in defence or attack (he usually does both anyway). Pearce Hanley continues to turn heads out there and the Mayo man will fancy his chances of being the key cog in the team’s wheel. I’d put Zach Tuohy in midfield without question and let him stretch the Australian legs with his marauding runs with former Sydney Swans midfielder Brendan Murphy lining out beside him.
As I say, our prospects at this sport are improving every year and had we the luxury of our aforementioned half forward trio, I’d genuinely be concerned for this year’s home side. As it is, Anthony Tohil still has enough players who are perfect to compete in all aspects of the AFL game. He has a ludicrously potent full forward line whose ability to win possession deep in Aussie territory can really hurt our enemy. He also has a united squad gunning for revenge.
And tomorrow, Ireland has the opportunity to exploit its full potential and put Australia to the sword in ruthless fashion which ensures that we are never patronised again.
My Starting 15:
1. Stephen Cluxton
2. Joe McMahon
3. Ciaran McKeever
4. Finian Hanley
5. Karl Lacey
6. Emmet Bolton
7. Pearce Hanley
8. Brendan Murphy
9. Zach Tuohy
10. Leighton Glynn
11. Tadhg Kennelly
12. Colm Begley
13. Tommy Walsh
14. Kieran Donaghy
15. Michael Murphy