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International Rules - a surprisingly long history

  • Thursday, October 14 2004 @ 06:11 pm ACST
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International Rules For a code that is sometimes derided as an artificial hybrid with little tradition, International Rules in various forms has quite a long history.

This occasional negative reaction is despite speculation of what mid-19th century Irish goldminers may have introduced to footy's primordial soup in western Victoria. Let alone the fact that Gaelic once had behind posts, an oval ball and the mark, or that a round ball and rectangular field were permissable in the early years of Australian rules. But the real Australia vs Ireland tradition began with Harry Beitzel, a VFL umpire, organising a star studded team from VFL (Victorian), SANFL (South Australian), Tasmanian and WAFL (Western Australian) players, captained by Ron Barrassi to tour the world in 1967.

The Irish thought the games, mainly Gaelic in nature, would be walkovers and were left red-faced by the Aussies' surprising skill. The success of this early tour led to a further one the following year and follow up tours by strong GAA county teams Meath and Kerry to Australia in the '70's. Games to that stage were often Aussie rules one half and Gaelic the other, all of one code, or sometimes Compromise rules. These early matches established one consistent early rule at least - the underdog and visiting team usually won. The games led to happy memories for many - e.g. these stories about Kerry footballer Weeshie Fogarty and North Melbourne player Darryl O'Brien.

In 1978 Beitzel revived a full Aussie team and toured Ireland again. Australian schoolboys teams toured Ireland in '81 and '84 and a Dublin Colleges team toured Australia in '83. The appetite was whetted to the extent that the first full official tours, all Compromise rules, began in 1984, Australia toured Ireland then and in '87 with the Irish coming down under in '86 and 1990. The 11 Tests were well contested, Ireland winning 6, Australia 5, aggregate score Ireland 609, Australia 595, but often controversy over the rules led to ugly brawls and the series seemed to finally die in a mix of shirtfronts and ensuing donnybrooks.

The resurrection came in 1998. And the success seems to relate in large part to refinement of the official rules. With a new name, a rather audacious leap in terms of nomenclature from "Compromise rules" to "International Rules Football", the current official series has benefited from what seems a very fair compromise of Aussie tackling, marking and running with the ball (Gaelic allows only 8 steps with 1 bounce after first 4) and Gaelic round ball, goal-net, rectangular field and no lying on the ball. The tackle rule has been clarified to rule out the Aussie shirt-front and permit just the Gaelic shoulder-to-shoulder bump, whilst grabbing an oponent is permissable waist to shoulder, not knee to shoulder as in Aussie rules. As a result of this fair compromise the scoreline for the 12 matches from '98 to '03 is: Ireland 5, Australia 5, drawn 2, aggregate scores Ireland 662 to Australia 678.

Additionally schoolboys and under 17 tours have just as long a history in the current format and more games given their 3 Test format.

Related websites: 

Tarik's International Rules site