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Irish go for skill, but with controversial rugby tackle coach

  • Thursday, October 09 2008 @ 11:26 am ACDT
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International Rules With comments noting that Australia's increase in skill with the round ball needs to be matched more, perhaps than trying to match Australia's physical strength - Ireland’s International Rules squad was announced on Tuesday 7th October in Dublin.

As reported in the Irish Times, Irish team manager (coach), Seán Boylan, admitted Ireland was sending its most inexperienced (in terms of International Rules experience) squad since the series resumed a decade ago. Ireland will be without all its AFL players due to injury or personal reasons (or perhaps some not considered on form grounds – though Boylan didn’t say that) apart from the Brisbane Lions' Colm Begley who did have an excellent season. Tadgh Kennelly carrying several injuries will be a big loss but will be assisting Boylan with managing the team.

The Irish players came mainly from the most successful counties in the recently completed All-Ireland championships, as the Irish Times reports: “All-Ireland finalists Tyrone and Kerry leading the pack with four players each. Other representations are Armagh and Cork (3), Galway, Dublin and Meath (2) with Laois, Down, Wicklow, Westmeath, Wexford, Mayo and Derry having one player each.” Of some controversy was that a small traditionally unsuccessful county, Fermanagh, that has improved markedly in recent times had 3 players considered likely, but all were overlooked.

Boylan indicated it was not so much the physicality of Australia in their dominant win in Dublin 2 years ago, but the skill and “point” (over the bar between the goal posts) scoring of several Australian players. He lauded the kicking skills of the Australians in the last two series saying: “…Australia had some very good football players in '05 and '06. If Peter Canavan had been kicking some of those points that the Australian were kicking they would have been points of the year here." (Canavan, recently retired, was a Kevin Bartlett look-a-like for county Tyrone (this year's All-Ireland champions), a legendary skillful point and goal scorer in Gaelic football who carved up Australia in several Tests and famously/infamously clashed with Jason Akermanis who was sent to curb the bald brilliance of Canavan.)

In the Irish Herald, Dublin star, Bernard Brogan, said this Irish squad has been selected with a focus more on skill than the bigger bodies that previous Irish teams tried to match the stronger professional Australian athletes with. Brogan hopes the new rule changes will mean more football and less foul play and indicated Ireland would focus on accurate passing and making more use of the mark (which does not exist in Gaelic football):

"The players in the squad are all top footballers," Brogan told the Herald. "We're not looking for big men to go out and fight the Aussies. We're going out there to play football and we're going out there to beat them playing football. I think Seán has picked a panel of brilliant footballers and brilliant passers. From a tactical point of view we'll be looking for the mark; we'll be looking to build up the pitch."

The Irish Times story also notes the disciplinary rule changes the AFL and GAA have brought in to clean up the games and prevent the melees that have marred previous Tests. Also that one of these changes is a new independent video referee from South African Rugby.

Also on the Rugby theme, the Irish Independent produces an interesting interview with former (and suspended for 5 years for assaulting a spectator) Irish Rugby international, Trevor Brennan, who has known Boylan since his childhood and has been recruited to Boylan’s coaching panel to help toughen up the Irish for the tackle. Brennan having reportedly studied hundreds of hours of International Rules and AFL DVDs – as well as knowing Gaelic Football all his life, brings an interesting Rugby background view to International Rules and surprisingly feels the hybrid game favours Australia far more than Ireland:

"I'd say the game is about 80pc more aligned to AFL. The use of the round ball can't make up that much ground. The Irish are just going to have to get used to carrying the ball further without playing it, using the sidestep and trying to avoid contact if they can. There is no need to take ball into contact if it can be avoided."

He also speculated that Rugby players could adapt to International Rules, an interesting thought as Soccer players showed they could adapt well enough to comprehensively win at least one country South Australian amateur International Rules match between a Port Lincoln soccer club and local Australian Football club - though it seems a pipe-dream to imagine IR games at professional level.

Thus the selection by both Malthouse and Boylan of fast skillful players indicates this year's series should at least display what International Rules portrays best - speed and quick ball movement beyond all other football codes. Whether unnecessary rough stuff will mar this, whether the games will be seen as too sanitised, whether Rugby toughman Brennan will teach the Irish how to coolly shrug tackles or rather provocatively over tackle Aussies - all questions that this month will answer.

IRISH INTERNATIONAL RULES SQUAD: Seán Cavanagh (Tyrone, capt), Graham Canty (Cork, vice captain), David Gallagher (Meath), Colm Begley (Laois), Paddy Bradley (Derry), Bernard Brogan (Dublin), Benny Coulter (Down), Bryan Cullen (Dublin), Kieran Donaghy (Kerry), Leighton Glynn (Wicklow), Finian Hanley (Galway), John Keane (Westmeath), Aaron Kernan (Armagh), Ciarán Lyng (Wexford), Steven McDonnell (Armagh), Enda McGinley (Tyrone), Ciarán McKeever (Armagh), Joe McMahon (Tyrone), Justin McMahon (Tyrone), Michael Meehan (Galway), John Miskella (Cork), Aidan O'Mahony (Kerry), Pearse O'Neill (Cork), Tom Parsons (Mayo), Kevin Reilly (Meath), Tommy Walsh (Kerry), Killian Young (Kerry).