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International Rules Second Test - view from the Cusack stand

  • Friday, October 29 2004 @ 05:12 am ACST
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International Rules Over the past few weeks this World Footy News reporter has posted a series of reports on International Rules. Though favourably disposed to the hybrid game and a believer in its possibilities, I had not seen a live Test since 2001 in Adelaide. In 2003 only the Rugby WC was available on TV in the UK, and mercifully I didn't have access to witness Ireland's whitewash of Australia in the IR First Test last week. So it was with anticipation that I ventured to the Cusack Stand of Croke Park with family and friends from Australia, Wales and Ireland.

This report is not a match report (see mainstream media for that) but a brief description of the atmosphere and views of friends and strangers I spoke to.

On way into the ground we saw Johnny Platten - the former Brownlow medallist (AFL's player of the year), Magary medallist (SANFL's player of the year) and Hawthorn premiership player. Given Australia's performance in the 1st Test, I asked him if he'd brought his boots. "I'd love to be out there mate, I really would!" he replied. The atmosphere pre-match was also full of anticipation with 60,000 packing the towering vertical stands of Croke Pk. Hundreds of waving Irish tricolours interspersed with dozens of Aussie flags from the thousands of Australian supporters as the teams did the march past. During the course of the afternoon we spotted most AFL guernseys on show.

The national anthems had both teams not in lineups, but in huddles radiating passion and underlining the fact national pride was at stake.

THE MATCH

The mellee moments before the start, the ball following skills of the nippy Jack Russell (see photo below) plus the intensity of the opening few minutes had the crowd stirred, and a noise level equivalent to any AFL final, that persisted till half time. Australia just in front and but for the Irish goalkeeper, could have had a better lead.

The half time atmosphere was buoyant with a spruiker getting the crowd singing "The fields of Athenry" - it tells of the lament of a young mother for her husband taken by convict ship to Botany Bay (Australia) for stealing corn during the famine. As a realisation that we live in happier times, John, an Aussie immigrant to Ireland, in the stand above us popped the big question to Neasa, his Irish love, with coverage on the big screen. Plus on the pitch a competitive primary school game of International Rules showed lots of young Gaelic players enjoying tackling.

The second half was one of Australian breakdowns in front of a tight Irish fullback line, fantastic goalkeeping and breathtaking Irish counter-attacks down the centre corridor. The result was a foregone conclusion 5 minutes into the last quarter, but some desperate late tackles by Australia prevented another blow-out.

POST MATCH VIEWS OF AUSSIES, IRISH & WELSH

After the match there were plenty of Sherrins flying around the hallowed Gaelic turf as the Irish crowd spilled onto the pitch to cheer their team taking the Cormac McAnallen Cup. On the way out a group of Adelaide Crows supporters looked very down hearted - "woeful" the word for the Aussie loss, not the concept. Mike from Perth said the game was "great value", pity 'bout the loss but the "speed, skill and competitiveness" from both sides was worth the trip. Two blokes from Melbourne made it clear they preferred straight Aussie Rules but nonetheless had found the match exciting and commented that in a globalised world the AFL would be "mad to drop the series." A St Kilda supporter noted Riewoldt's good game and said a few more big marking stars would have helped, noting the Irish outmarked the Aussies in the air, which "is just not on".

The feeling of our Irish friends - satisfaction, they felt their team had actually done them proud, and mentioned that the Cormac McAnallen trophy was a fitting recognition for the captain of Tyrone, the 2003 winning premiership team, who died of an acute heart infection at the start of the 2004 season. They thought the game very good entertainment value and that Australia had thrown all they had into the effort.

On the way out into Dublin the light-hearted ribbing from hoards of Irish kids was incessant. The only aggro comments we got were a few "why's the Union Jack still in your flag mate!"

Same flag comment from my Welsh mates - a Rugby player and a retired soccer veteran, neither who'd seen Aussie Rules or Gaelic football before - but at end of game: "that was really, really enjoyable!". What did they like? "the speed!" (simultaneous instant reply), "and the non-stop nature - better than soccer or Rugby in that respect". "Also the skill - surprisingly high - the quick reflexes and the knowing where team-mates are, the running to position and movement of the ball at such speed..."

And their verdict on the result? "Ireland were fitter and faster". Amateurs fitter than professionals? - what about skill with round ball? "Australia not noticeably different" they thought, though to my more practiced eye the slight hesitation at times before kicking was visible. But I had to agree on the pace issue - perhaps if Australia backed themselves to run the ball down the centre corridor more often. Made me think again about Johnny Platten who was a master at running play. Anyway that's for Garry Lyon's (Australia's coach) successor.

The next day at work my Welsh friend told me they are planning to go to the next IR series in Dublin in 2006 and will start following Aussie rules and GAA on the internet and try and get to Ireland to see some Gaelic football and Hurling. Plus the 8 yr old son had been raving ever since about "handpasses!, catches!, tackles! - with a football (round ball) too!"