Wednesday 24 January 2018

Questions have to be answered

Irish need to respond with proof of skills, not physicality



(Croke Park, Tonight, 7.0, Live TG4)

THANK heavens for second tests. But for them, we'd wave the Aussies off at the airport with all these questions still bouncing about inside our heads like over-sized beach balls at a rock concert.

Are they really better footballers than our lads? How come the execution of such primary skills as passing and shooting were so badly lacking from the best Gaelic footballers in Ireland last week?

Did Anthony Tohill just get his tactics wrong? Will anyone show up? Any chance of a mill? What did Graham Canty ever do to anyone to be punished to mark fellas like Adam Goodes and Barry Hall every time he wears an Irish jersey?

That sort of stuff.

The waft of negative opinion which drifted from the Gaelic Grounds last Saturday spread wide over Limerick that night. The first test was, largely, a poor spectacle.


Ireland's late, late scoring bursts lifted the crowd and provided some atmosphere yet Australia's third-quarter fluency was just as entertaining, even if it didn't get the praise that it deserved.

It's something we're going to have to get used to.

Generally, Irish people gauge the Aussies by their physique, their aggression and their strength.

We've been conditioned to do as such after years trying to pick out who the hard men were in the first couple of seconds of the first tests.

This Australian team though, is a conglomerate of footballers, excellent ones at that, and judging by Wednesday's training session in Croke Park, players who are even more comfortable with the alien ball than they were in the Gaelic Grounds.

Yet you get the feeling that a lot of them are a bit bemused by the coverage the series is getting over here. Only six of them have played International Rules football before and none were here for the 'killing fields' tests of 2006.

Yet nearly every enquiry they've been asked since their plane touched down is about violence and physicality rather than football.

Interestingly, Australia manager Mick Malthouse fired the first angry verbal shots of the series during the week when asked on that very issue.

"I've been bemused by reading here -- just to get a gauge on how it's taken -- that there seems to be this misery that the game has lost its brutality," he said.

"Yet we bemoan that in 2006 things happened that were poor quality in a game between two countries with a long and interlinked history.

"In everything I've read so far I haven't come across a positive article about this game.

"If it's going to die, it won't die because of the GAA. It won't die because of the AFL. It'll die because it doesn't get the recognition from the journalists."

Malthouse is right on one level. We moan when the Aussies push us around and then when we throw the toys out of the pram and demand that the big boys stop bullying us, we pine for the good old days when men were men and clothes-lining someone was a legitimate defence against a player wandering obliviously into your flightpath.

As for the lack of positivity about the first test? Well, Irish journalists are like everyone else really. You're either gripped or entertained or bored or bemused just like everyone else in the stand or watching at home on television.

And at times last Saturday, the first test was quite hard to watch.

Even apart from Ireland's fetish for 'behinds', their play further out the pitch wasn't effective and certainly, changes need to be made to their gameplan.

Where to start?


Well, presuming Ireland's snipers have their sights calibrated that bit better this week, the conundrum remains how exactly to deliver the bullets to them.

As a deterrent, the first Irish player who lobs a high ball in around the Aussie square tonight should be forced to watch the opening test on repeat for a fortnight.

When Ireland ran at Australia, they caused them problems. Which means that Ireland have to take a chance tonight.

So pre-occupied were the Irish players with not being tackled last week that they seemed almost hell-bent on never having possession. Even when an Irish player was in prime distribution zone some 50 or 60 metres out, they seemed to have one eye focused on who might be tackling him.

"We probably over-emphasised on not taking the tackle and just palming the ball away and that kind of stuff but we have to take the ball in and if you take a tackle it's not the end of the world," said Leighton Glynn yesterday.

"It's either going to be a throw-up or they'll have a free. We'll probably work on that as well but the biggest thing is to concentrate, keep our composure and try to play football from the start rather than try to build ourselves into the game.

That's a primary concern for Ireland. Bernard Brogan's goal came from Glynn refusing a mark and running across his marker.

It was brave and had its potential repercussions but it's vital that Ireland do that if they want to salvage something from the series.

The Irish defence coped quite well with the Aussie forwards and Tohill's men broke even around the middle, even if their concession of handy marks between the two '45s was a major oversight.

It's just in possession that Ireland looked clueless and the likes of Brogan, Stevie McDonnell and now Benny Coulter need to be better serviced by their team-mates out the field.

Watch out for a big test from Marty Clarke, whose ability to ping visionary passes around Croke Park was so widely hailed this summer.

But also, watch out for an improvement from Australia.

Both teams will be more comfortable in their own skins this week so we should have a higher quality match and Ireland's likely running game should see more tackling and that ingredient we all miss -- physicality.

And it's not beyond Ireland to turn this one over but all Australia need is a decent opening and both the test and the series will be theirs.

ODDS: Second Test: Ireland 11/10, Draw 22/1, Australia 8/11

Series: Ireland: 2/1, Australia 4/11

VERDICT: Australia

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