An uncompromising success November 1998
October 30, 1998
After an absense of eight years, the GAA and the AFL authorities combined to resurrect the Coca-Cola International Rules series and it was a huge success. Hogan Stand was present in Croke Park for two thrilling encounters and was delighted with Ireland's win.
GAA headquarters has never seen anything like it before. Even the previous Compromise Rules series between Ireland and Australia couldn't compete with this year's for sheer entertainment and excitement. The critics who canvassed against the re-introduction of the series polled a resounding no vote - their objections evaporated amidst chants of 'Ireland, Ireland'.
Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and GAA President Joe McDonagh indulging in a bout of Mexican waving . . . 35,000 enthusiastic supporters rocking Croke Park to its foundations . . . a win apiece for the Irish and Australians - all chapters in the success story of the 1998 Coca-Cola International Rules Series.
It's authors, the GAA and AFL authorities, sat smiling contentingly in the VIP area, satisfied that their vision and initiative was rewarded in the way they had desired. Make no mistake about it, this was entertainment at its best, and has injected a new lease of life into the hybrid game.
The attitude of the Australian public is one of the potential pitfalls of the series, and their response is eagerly awaited next October. Past experience will not inspire confidence as the Australian public's imagination has proven as difficult to capture as a ticket was for this year's All-Ireland football final.
But the GAA can rest safe in the knowledge that when the carnival rolls back into Dublin in the year 2000 those who God spares of the 35,000 plus which attended the deciding test will be back.
It was a memorable sporting occasion in which the wide repertoire of skills which Gaelic football and Aussie Rules can provide were all on show. 35,000 people experienced the deciding test first hand, while many more tuned in live to RTE. However, it's debatable whether the armchair view could have done justice to a unique atmosphere, which incorporated the 'Mexican Wave' at the end of the third period.
Needless to say the outcome contributed to the sense of occasion. Much to the delight of the partisan crowd, the home side made amends for the opening defeat, thanks to a 4-12-7 (67) to 2-10-14 (56) scoreline in the second test, thus clinching the series on aggregate, 6-24-20 (128) to 4-22-28 (118).
23,000 people witnessed the Irish losing the opening test despite having dominated for the majority of the contest. With three minutes remaining the sides were level at 61 points apiece. Roars of 'Ireland, Ireland' echoed around the ground as the Irish supporters attempted to lift their side for one last effort. Unfortunately however, it was the visitors who prevailed with Scott Camporeale's 79th minute behind (a point) completing their Lazarus style comeback. Australia only led for one minute of the match - but it was the decisive one.
There was some consolation for the Colm O'Rourke managed side when Cavan's Dermot McCabe was awarded the 'Man of the Match' trophy.
There was much to admire about the Irish performance seven days later. Both the management and players learnt from their mistakes and the end product was a cohesive team display which boasted speed, strength and no shortage of skill.
O'Rourke and his selectors, Mickey Moran and John O'Keefe, made better use of the interchange players, conserving energy for the final quarter was a key ingredient in the winning formula, while there was no easing off the pedal by the players this time around.
The home side also broke free of conventional positioning. Anthony Tohill was initially deployed at full-forward before reverting back to the full-back position for the third quarter. The big man from Swatragh equipped himself well, but a poor delivery from midfield didn't do him any favours.
In contrast the Australians appeared to approach the clash with an air of complacency - despite having been under the cosh for the majority of the opening test. Strangely, they decided not to do any ball work until the Thursday prior to the decider as they concentrated instead on treating themselves to a bit of Irish hospitality in the west of the country.
Set against the backdrop of continuous references to their difficulties in adapting to the round ball, it defies logic.
Both teams deserve credit for the sporting manner in which the game was played. The absense of violence created an environment where talent was allowed prosper - the original Irish t-shirt like jerseys would even have withstood the close scrutiny. It was the first game since the competitions inception in 1984 that there was not a single 'dirty' incident.Indeed in the 160 minutes of football which made up the1998 series there was only one incident which threatened to evolve into the kind of brawls which were common place in the previous series between the two countries. As the hooter sounded to signal the end of the third quarter the first day it looked as if tempers were about to flare but the peace was quickly restored.
There were many heroes in the green jersey in the final game. However it was Collingwood's Nathan Buckley who received the 'Man of the Match' accolade in the face of some strong Irish competition. The defence, marshalled superbly by Darren Fay and Glen Ryan, stood firm in the face of Australian pressure.
Seamus Moynihan, Sean M. Lockhart and the Offaly duo of Finbarr Cullen and John Kenny were others to catch the eye in the rearguard.
Vice-captain Peter Canavan belied his small stature to create all kinds of problems for the Aussie defence, while the Galway trio of Michael Donnellan, Jarlath Fallon and Sean Og de Paor showed just why the Tribesmen are All-Ireland champions. There was no sign of post All-Ireland hangovers with each of them popping up to score goals.
On the evidence of this year, the Coca Cola International series must not be allowed to die like its predecessors. Both games were a fine advertisement for the international dimension and provided some of the highlights of the 1998 GAA calendar. Roll on 2000!!!
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