Joe's Irish troops to face biggest Oz test
Hosts must be on guard to repel another 100mph start from Australians - Kernan
Joe Kernan has laid bare the extent of the challenge facing his Irish squad when they take on Australia in tonight's EirGrid International Rules test at Croke Park.
The veteran boss has led his club (Crossmaglen) and county (Armagh) to the All-Ireland summit, but he spoke yesterday like a man who expects one of the biggest managerial challenges he has ever faced at GAA HQ (7.0, live on RTÉ 2).
"This game is going 30 years - this is going to be the toughest test ever," Kernan predicted. "I'm not going back years ago when there was violence in it - it's going to be the toughest man-to-man, end-to-end game. They feel they have to prove themselves and we feel we have to prove ourselves."
This point was underlined by Australian skipper Luke Hodge at yesterday's captains call press conference, recalling how heavy defeats to Ireland in 2011 and 2013 prompted plenty of soul-searching from the AFL.
"We were embarrassed a bit," admitted Hodge. "There was a game out here where the Ireland boys kicked over 100 points. Looking back on it, our country needed to do something about that."
Now the boot is on the other foot as Ireland seek to atone for last year's disastrous first half in Perth: they trailed by 28 points, 35-7, before launching a pride-restoring fightback to eventually lose 56-46.
Paul Earley was the manager back then but the lessons of that game have been heeded by Kernan. "This game is going to be a high tempo early on, and we want to have everybody tuned in," he warned. "If it does take off at 100 miles per hour, that we are able to cope ... the fact of the matter is they blew us out of the water last year. They will be wanting to do the same here again, and that's what we have to be ready for."
Bernard Brogan, skippering Ireland in what is his second series, echoed the same theme - that he expects a full-blooded contest rather than some harmless exhibition.
"We're not going in here to put on a spectacle - we obviously want to have a great game, but we're going to go hard, like the Australians will," the four-time All Star explained.
"We're amateur athletes but we always say we're professional in everything we do. We want to pit ourselves against the best in the world in sport and see where we're at. We wouldn't be coming out here (tonight) if we just thought we were going to make up the numbers. And Joe wouldn't be putting his time in over the last 12 weeks."
GAA officers are hoping for an attendance around the 40,000 mark tonight - an improvement on the 28,525 that watched the second test in that lopsided home series of 2013, but a far cry from the 82,127 that crammed Croke Park in 2006 for the incendiary second test that almost ended this sporting marriage for good.
"There've been big crowds and there hasn't always been fighting here in Croke Park," Kernan reflected.
"People want to know is it going to be competitive, is it going to be of high skill and will they be able to enjoy themselves? I hope that we perform to the best of our ability and we know the Australians, being professional, that when they come in they go to war.
"If we get it competitive, I always think there will be a chance people will want to see it. What we are doing is selling it for the next few years. That's our job."