A waltz for Australia October 2000
30 October 2000
Less than a month after the broad family of Irelands sporting enthusiasts were bandying about the name of Olympian Cathy Freeman like snuff at a wake, the name of fellow aborigine Michael OLoughlin was on the tip of the tongues of a Gaelic nation.
OLoughlin, the Sydney Swans flyer, was the star man for Australia as the antipodian crew cruised to a second successive Compromise Rules Test victory on September 15th last before over 57,000 fans.
No doubt, the player with the most Irish sounding name of the touring Wallabies received congratulations of Freemanesque proportions on the squads return down under.
In simple terms though, there was much more to the Aussies superiority over Ireland than merely the electrifying pace of man-of-the match OLoughlin. Much more than merely the fetching of Brisbane giant Justin Leppitsch, the leadership of captain James Hird or the intimidation rendered by Jason Akermanis.
Ireland were as much a disappointment in the second test as the visitors were a revelation. The winners were thoroughly professional and focused and therein lay part of the reason for the differential on the scoreboard.
What can be said with full certainty after this latest Compromise Rules series is that Ireland have a lot of catching-up to do to match the standard of fitness, tactical nous and sheer professionalism of their traditional opponents.
Perhaps Ireland went into the second test believing that their supposed capacity to score six-pointers (goals) would be enough to recover the teams eight point deficit on the back of the first test defeat.
Maybe Irelands following ought to have prepared themselves for seeing their favourites bowled over completely in the second test. After all, the writing was on the wall as Australia swept Ireland aside in the fourth quarter of the first test.
Minus the services of All-Ireland final players, Seamus Moynihan, Michael Donnellan, Sean de Paor, the Irish team needed to build up a commanding early lead as they are not accustomed to the 80-minute fare and they were always likely to struggle in the last quarter.
In front of a 38,000-strong crowd at Croke Park, Ireland started brightly enough and raced into a 12-0 lead after 14 minutes but it was pretty evident that the Aussies were pacing themselves and even when Ireland led by 22-8 by the 27th minute, the Aussies looked dangerous, especially when Justin Leppitsch was switched from defense to attack. Leppitsch proceeded to act as a superb target man and his assists and ability to kick three-pointers were instrumental in paving the way for the Aussies win.
Ireland led by 28-19 at half-time and seem to be on the road to outright victory when a move carried on by Trevor Giles was expertly flicked by Peter Canavan into the path of the supporting Graham Geraghty who fisted the ball to the empty net for the only goal of the game.
Australia refused to panic though and Leppitsch and Blake Caracella kept their team very much in touch with three-pointers. The third quarter ended with Ireland leading by 40-34 but within three minutes of the restart they had extended that lead to eight points.
The Aussies worked very hard to cut into Irelands lead and the gap was just two points when Dermot Earley broke through but elected to fire the ball over the bar rather than under.
As the homesters visibly tired, Australia proceeded to add 14 points in a charge for the finishing line. In contrast, Ireland could only manage just one point. An eight point deficit now faced Ireland as eyes turned towards the second test. Could Ireland swing the aggregate scores in their favour?
Just a goal and two points adrift in Gaelic football terms, Ireland had the support of around 57,000 fans (a record attendance for an Irish international in any code) as the second test got underway at Headquarters on September 15th in perfect Autumnal conditions.
A fantastic attendance, great atmosphere and expectations filling every section of the ground that a thriller was about to unravel. Sadly, the match fell short of everything that Irish fans had hoped for.
Without the services of Ciaran Whelan and Glen Ryan due to injuries and the club-tied trio of Dara OSe, Declan OKeeffe and Jonathan McGee, team-manager Brian McEniff was facing an uphill battle to conjure up a winning formula.
Ireland had a precious golden goal chance after just five minutes but Aussie keeper Andrew Kellaway saved superbly to keep out Peter Canavans low shot. Sean Og de Paor had another chance moments but it went abegging.
Just as Leppitsch managed to score 17 points in the first test, his team-mate Michael OLoughlin enjoyed a red letter day second time around, matching Leppitschs tally and proving a thorn in the side of the Irish all day with his smart running off the ball and his ability to make the most of his chances in front of goal.
Australia got off to the start that Ireland craved and, in truth, it never really looked as if Ireland were going to win the game of catch-up.
Things looked bleak from as early as the 26th minute when the unmarked OLoughlin rounded keeper Sullivan to blast the ball to the net to leave his side 29-10 to the good.
Ireland showed commendable spirit after OLoughlins six-pointer with Tyrones Eoin Gormley breaking through in the 32nd minute to leave Ireland trailing by 16-35.
At the end of the second quarter, Ireland trailed by 19-47 and in dire need of a few goals to stop the rampant Aussies in their tracks.
Speedy Cavan attacker Larry Reilly looked like he had a chance for goal in the 41st minute but, instead, screwed his effort high and wide for a solitary point to leave the aggregate deficit 35 and although Ireland got it back to 14 late on, they never looked like overhauling the visitors advantage. The match finished with Ireland sporting a tally of 1-12-9 (51) and Australia 2-15-11 (68). Meanwhile, the two test aggregate score read; Ireland 98 Australia 123.
In the end, Ireland were simply outclassed. The teams passing was too often laboured and mis-directed for their own good while the marking left a lot to be desired also.
In fairness though, any concentration on Irelands weaknesses demeans the worthiness and value of the Aussies effort. They came, they saw and they conquered. Slick, fast, organised and utterly determined, the men from down under were, in particular, much more efficient in the use of their possession.
While the health and longevity of the Compromise Rules series will have benefited from the Aussies series win, the question of Irelands preparations for forthcoming tests, especially on home territory, will have to be seriously looked at by the GAA.
This years tests showed that the Aussies have improved immensely in many aspects of the code. Ireland has some catching up to be done. Attempts at working on closing the gap should start sooner rather than later.
For the record, the following were the Ireland and Australian teams, and scorers, who participated in the final, deciding test:
Cormac Sullivan, Peter Canavan, Gerard Cavlan, Mark Crossan, Finbar Cullen, Dermot Earley, Darren Fay, Graham Geraghty, Trevor Giles (capt), Eoin Gormley, Padraig Joyce, Sean Martin Lockhart, Seamus Moynihan, Kieran McGeeney, Paul McGrane, Ciaran McManus, Colm McMenamon, Sean Og de Paor, Seamus Quinn, Anthony Rainbow, Larry Reilly, Eoin Sexton, Brian Stynes, Anthony Tohill.
Andrew Kellaway, Justin Leppitsch, Justin Blumfield, Luke Power, James Hird (capt), Brad Johnson, Scott West, Rohan Smith, Damien Hardwick, Jason Akermanis, Adem Yze, Steven King, Michael OLoughlin, Craig Bradley, Shane Woewodin, Andrew McLeod, Trent Croad, Chris Heffernan, Mark Ricciuto, Blake Caracella, David King, Simon Goodwin.
Ireland - Dermot Earley 13, Eoin Gormley 7, Brian Stynes 6, Seamus Moynihan 6, Ciaran McManus 5, Finbar Cullen 4, Anthony Tohill 3, Anthony Rainbow 3, Graham Geraghty 1, Trevor Giles 1, Paul McGrane 1, Larry Reilly 1.
Michael OLoughlin 17, Justin Leppitsch 11, Adem Yze 9, Blake Carracella 9, Andrew McLeod 5, Mark Ricciuto 4, Trent Croad 3, Scott West 3, Luke Power 3, James Hird 1, Brent Ratten 1, Steven King 1, David King 1.Referees/Umpires: Pat McEnaney (Ireland), Brett Allen (Australia).