MY initial thoughts watching the early stages of the second test of the International Rules Series were that Ireland played alright while Australia were very poor.
Irrespective of performance levels though, there can always be something learned from viewing other field sports.
When completing my Masters last year I would have compared the fitness profiles of elite players in both games. While the Australian football players were as expected superior, the levels in Gaelic football are certainly rising every year.
Looking at the game Ireland achieved initial success with attacking ploys straight from the traditional Gaelic football game. Ireland created scores through diagonal balls into Michael Murphy, Conor McManus or Gary Brennan or through the switching of the play.
Players were able to win easier possession by moving away from their direct opponent and uncontested. This is so important in a game with the tackle rule.
Ireland had plenty of possession but couldn’t execute this type of play enough. Australia made it difficult through their version of the blanket defence! There were too many aimless kicks forward. This breakdown could have been a physical or tactical issue.
Fatigue meant the ball carrier didn’t have the extra support runners in the half-back line so he had to rush his kick for fear of a soft turnover.
One thing which proved fruitful was quick restarts from frees. It’s the one time a teams defence can be out of position, which can lead to easier goal scoring opportunities.
The Australia team were struggling to put any positive pattern to their game. Too many times they went down cul de sacs and were turned over by impressive Irish tackling.
This pattern continued in the second quarter, a scrappy affair, apart from Conor McManus’s super shooting, especially compared to the Australians.
Sean Powter was given the task to shutting down Australian danger man Eddie Betts. Powter showed his inexperience with the hybrid game when being caught in possession a few times but still being assigned this man-marking role was another sign of the progress he has made in the last 18 months.
Eoin Cadogan was very comfortable throughout. Alongside Brennan and McManus he was one of Ireland’s better performers. Ciarán Sheehan didn’t see enough game time to have a meaning full impact.
Australia had momentum in the third quarter but again this came from soft Irish turnovers: five of their seven scores came from this.
As the game wore on Australians just have that slight edge and instinct in the tackle zone. That’s to be expected as the tackle is such a big part of the Australian Rules game.
Credit is due to Ireland as they battled back to finish strong and only for Australian goalkeeper Brendan Goddard, Ireland could have been six to nine points further ahead heading into the last quarter. Goddard’s shot stopping, distribution and his ability to come out from goal and stifle attacks were all impressive.
Ireland will have regrets as some great opportunities were missed in the last quarter and in closing minute’s mistakes once again gifted easy overs to the Australians. They were brilliant at times in moving the ball before contact. This is something the Irish players could learn from.
Considering the Australian’s superior hand passing, the rule of the goalkeeper having to kick the ball outside the 45 after every wide or score didn’t suit them. High fielding is Australia’s strength but in fairness, Ireland competed well on the Australian kick-out.
There are many critics as to the value of the International series. The crowds at both tests may have been down from other years but you can see what it means to the players.
Most inter-county players by their nature are very competitive and high achievers whether that is their sporting or personal life. Therefore it’s understandable why the Irish players are interested in playing for their country.
Similarly, you can see what it means to the Australian players with the calibre of players available. It might be the off-season so the players are not at peak fitness but they really wanted to win the series.
This was typified by the flare-up between many players at the half-time whistle. Australia were trailing by 13 points and not playing well. Their frustrations boiled over, as they knew what was at stake.
Going forward while you would like the series to continue there could be issues with the changes to the inter-county calendar. Many counties may now not start their club championships until September or October, which could rule out some of the top Irish players like we had this year.
More club coaches and players could get frustrated as their top players are heading to International rules trials or training two days before they have a big championship match. It’s great for the player individually to get this recognition but you can see how the clash if fixtures or training is far from ideal.
The club players are frustrated enough as it is with the present fixture calendar so therefore you can understand why some county players put club before country this year.
CONTACT: @paudiekissane or visit www.pkperformance.ie