Ireland win battle but lose Rules war

October 24, 2003

Ciaran McManus
Australia 45 (1 goal, 10 overs, 9 behinds) Ireland 48 ( 2 goals, 9 overs, 9 behinds) Ireland's failure to last the pace once again proved to be their Achilles heel as a fitter Australia team edged home to win their first International Rules series on home soil by an aggregate of seven points having won the first test by 56-46. An intriguing contest at the MCG in Melbourne in front of 60,235 rain-lashed fans saw Ireland get off to a dream start but their subsequentfailure to score more than just one over and a behind inthe final quarter saw them let victory in the series slip from their grasp. It all looked so rosy for the fired-up visitors as the game got off to a crescendo of noise at the jam-packed cricket ground. Ireland took the game to their hosts in the opening quarter and an over by the excellent Stephen McDonnell, after he got his fist to a Padraic Joyce sideline free in the 9th minute left the hosts trailing by 1-7. And with Australia's main scoregetter Barry Hall being subdued by the brilliant Graham Canty, the visitors continued to hold sway and when Brian 'Beano' McDonald goaled, soccer-style, from a Benny Coulter centre, in the 12th minute, it all looked so good for Ireland as they sat pretty on a 16-1 lead. Things got even better two minutes later when the elusive McDonald landed an over to make the winning of the series a real live possibility for the Irish. The home side had other ideas though and an over each by Brent Harvey and Rowan Smith inside the opening seven minutes of the second quarter served to reduce Ireland's lead to 25-11. In what was once again a relatively incident-free encounter, John Rawlings was sent off in the 14th minute after taking offence to a great tackle by Canty on Harvey. Ireland could have goaled in the 16th minute but Joe Higgins was tripped heading for goal. However John O'Keeffe's men got a let-off subsequently when Joyce was allowed, rather than Higgins, to take the free-kick which he converted for an over. Trailing by 15-30 (0-4-3 to 2-4-6) at the start of the third-quarter, Australia made light of the fact that they were now playing against the breeze. Sadly for Ireland, the third quarter seemed to revert to type as the Aussies, as expected, came out with all guns firing and an over by Brad Jnston in the 2nd minute had Ireland immediately on the backfoot. However it was referee McBirney's decision to penalise Graham Canty for an off-the-ball foul in the large square which really put the visitors under pressure. Brent Harvey subsequently fired home from his hands with aplomb. But with the wind at their backs, Ireland failed to panic and although Pavlich and Wirrpunda each added a behind to close the gap to six points, Padraic Joyce notched a classy over in the 12th minute to ease the pressure on the leaders. And from there to the close of the third-quarter, it was the Irish who looked the more inventive and fitter and an over each by McDonnell and Anthony Lynch helped Ireland consolidate their long-time lead. Finding it difficult to match Ireland's soccer skills and with Hall continuing to remain a peripheral figure, hopes of a series win for Ireland increased by the minute. Once again, Armagh ace Steven McDonnell proved to be a key figure in winning the ball and scoring as the Aussies pressed harder and harder to get on level terms. McDonnell popped ueverywhere and his workrate and ability to make marks in the first half of the third quarter was crucial in keeping Ireland on top. Amazingly Ireland actually proceeded to out-score their hosts by 14 points to 12 in that vital third quarter despite being under the cosh for the opening ten minutes of that period. Alas that was as good as it got for the Irish as a Nathan Browne-inspired Australia slowly but surely ate into the aggregate score as the final quarter got up and running. Hall's first score (an over) in the 5th minute was a bad omen for the Irish. Once again, Ireland appeared to suffer, fitness-wise, as the game entered its final stage with the unmarked David Wirrpinda notching an over in the 6th minute to square the series at 34-44. But just three minutes, the Aussies fell behind once more when Jacovich was penalised for plucking the ball off the ground while prostrate and McDonnell did the needful by getting an over from the subsequent free. Incredibly, Ireland weren't to score from there until injury time when Joe Bergin notched a behind in the 21st minute. In between times, Nathan Browne showed his leadership and class by notching three crucial overs, his first coming in the 12th minute from an acutely-angled sideline free before his fisted effort (15th) and opportunist strike (17th) conspired to cut Ireland's lead to just three points, 47 to 44. At that stage there was only going to be one winner. The play continued to be of the one-way variety with Ireland's desperate clearances from defence being constantly returned with interest by the stronger and fitter Aussies. And, as is their wont, the homesters went for the kill in the dying minutes and a behind for Hall left just two points in it with two minutes of normal time. Ireland showed real grit and ambition though in their bid to win the test and their brave efforts were suitably rewarded with Bergin's last minute effort having consolation written all over it. Ireland; Enda Murphy; Paddy Christie, Cormac McAnallen, Sean Martin Lockhart; Anthony Lynch (3), Kieran McGeeney, Graham Canty; Ciaran McManus (2), Tom Kelly; Odran O'Dwyer, Padraic Joyce (7) Joe Higgins; Benny Coulter (3), Steven McDonnell (18) Brian McDonald (8) Interchange; Stephen Kelly, Dessie Dolan(3)Kev Hughes, Tommy Freeman (2) , Shane Ryan, Kevin Cassidy, Paul McGrane, Joe Bergin (2) Australia; G. Jacovich; A. Simpson (1), L. Barry, B. Kirk (1); L. Power, J. Rawlings, D. Wells; S. Crawford (1) Hayes; B. Harvey (7) B. Johnston (4) C. Johnston (3); N. Browne (9), B. Hall (3), M. Pavlich (5) Interchange; D. Wirrpunda (5) R. Smith (3), N. Barry, P. Hazleby (3) FIRST TEST Australia 56 (3 goals, 10 overs, 8 behinds) Ireland 46 (1 goal, 10 overs, 10 behinds) Ireland will have to reverse a ten point deficit in Melbourne next week if they are to win their fifth successive International Compromise Rules test series down in Australia. John O'Keeffe's men got off to a shaky start after the host side triumphed by ten points in a mildly-entertaining first test in front of a sell-out 41,228 crowd at the Subiaco Oval in Perth. The test conformed to type as Australia produced a resurgent second half display to bowl over the tiring amateurs in a game which highlighted once again the superior fitness of the professionals from Down Under. In the end, a lack of concentration and some indiscipline by the Irish at times proved crucial, especially in the 10th minute of the third-quarter when Aussie Crawford crashed in a tremendous goal to put his side into a decisive 56-43 lead. In truth, the Irish got what they deserved despite a five star display by Armagh's Steven McDonnell scorer of 16 over the course of the 80 minutes (including 5 three pointers) and commanding displays also by seasoned Rules campaigners Ciaran McManus and Sean Martin Lockhart. Ireland led by 25-11 at the end of the first quarter, thanks in part to a fine goal from debutant Benny Coulter in the 5th minute after Dessie Dolan did well to release the ball in the course of being grounded. Down man Coulter's six pointer was sandwiched by two overs by on-fire Armagh ace Stephen McDonnell as the Aussies, as is their wont, took time to settle. The host side had opened their account after three minutes when Chris Johnson scored a behind and then used their improved kicking to set up Lenny Hayes for a three pointer in the 6th minute. Slowly but surely the Aussies' tactic of launching in high balls to target man Barry Hall began to reap dividends and a three pointer from the strapping full-forward reduced Ireland's lead to just two points, 12 to 10. with eleven minutes gone. With Sean Martin Lockhart, in particular, and Ciaran McManus showing all the experience that comes with playing in their 9th test, Ireland's defence began to look more assured as they grew in confidence. And when Steven McDonnell cracked over two overs after making a mark on each occasion, Ireland finished the first quarter strongly. Ireland had a goal chance just two minutes from the close of the first quarter when Ciaran McManus ran in on goal but elected to drive the ball high and over the bar rather than shool for a six pointer. Leading by 25 points to 11 at the start of the second quarter, Ireland failed to add to their tally until the 7th minute when Benny Coulter recorded a behind. Two minutes later though, the resurgent Irish put together their best move of the match to put Kevin Hughes through for a vital three pointer to leave Australia trailing by 22 to 29. Aussies tightened up considerably in defence as the second quarter proceeded though and illegal tackles on Dessie Dolan and Tom Kelly also reflected a more physical side to their game. Padraic Joyce continued to drop back near midfield in acting out the role of playmaker but Australia continued to dominate in open play around midfield and as Ireland's performance dipped, Australia succeeded in closing the deficit to just five points, 27 to 32, by the end of the second quarter. The third quarter began in frenetic fashion with Enda Murphy going full-length on the ground to divert a Nathan Brown ëdaisycutter' for a behind and then at the other end, the Aussie defence made a double block to deny, first Joe Higgins and then from the rebound, Padraic Joyce. Ireland dug deep though and three behinds by Higgins, Tom Kelly and Coulter left the visitors 38 to 29 in front after eight minutes. In a bid to limit the influence of Sidney Swans' star Barry Hall, Ireland gambled by leaving two defenders on the towering attacker as the third quarter gathered pace. The Aussies got a real leg-up then in the 14th minute when quick-thinking by Chris Johnson from a mark allowed Brad Johnson to run in and shoot low off the out-stretched leg of Cormac McAnallen into the net. Less than 90 seconds later, the Irish effort received another major blow blow when the dangerous Hall made a nuisance of himself yet again to feed the supporting Chris Johnson. Enda Murphy, in an attempt to stop the in-running Johnson, tripped his Aussie opponent and in the resultant penalty, Johnson picked himself up to fire the ball from his hands past the diving Murphy for a vital second goal to help leave the men from down under 47 to 41 (2,9,8 to 1,9,8) to the good with just the final quarter remaining. Ireland came out fighting as the final quarter got underway and a Tom Kelly behind plus a similar effort from Coulter left just four points between the sides after seven minutes. Once again though, the Aussies showed quickness of mind to put Brent Harvey through for an over. Then came Captain Crawford's killer goal. Quick thinking by Brown and Johnson allowed Shane Crawford to run in on goal and with no Irish defender in sight, the fair-haired centre calmly slid the ball into the net to catapult his side into a comfortable 56-43 lead. Ireland tried to hit back on the resumption but Aussie ëkeeper Jakovich made a fine diving save from a Ciaran McManus piledriver. The loss through injury of Ciaran McManus after 12 minutes added to Ireland's woes. Concentration going and poor marking proceeded to bedevil Ireland's attempts at closing the gap as the game entered the final five minutes. In a mini-flare up which added to the tension, Chris Johnson and Cormac McAnallen were booked. Despite continuing to get caught in possession too many times for their own good, Ireland nonetheless chased the game furiously ëtill the end. However despite having the last say with a McDonnell behind, the Irish had to thank ëkeeper Murphy moments earlier for keeping their hopes of turning the test around next time out when he effected a great save in the dying moments from Brent Harvey. Ireland; Enda Murphy; Paddy Christie, Anthony Lynch, Cormac McAnallen; Sean Martin Lockhart, Kieran McGeeney (3), Graham Canty; Paul McGrane, Ciaran McManus (3); Joe Bergin, Benny Coulter (10), Padraic Joyce (3); Stephen McDonnell (16), Dessie Dolan (1). Subs used; Joe Higgins (3), Tom Kelly (3), Kevin Hughes (3), Shane Ryan, Brian McDonald (1). Australia; Glen Jakovich; Luke Power, Jared Crouch, Matthew Scarlet; Brad Johnson (7), Richard Smith, Brett Kirk; Adam Simpson (1), Shane Crawford (6); Chris Johnson (6), Daniel Wells (1), Lenny Hayes (3); Matthew Pavlich (4), Nathan Brown (7), Barry Hall (13). Subs used; Paul Hasleby (3), Tim Bizzel (3), Brent Harvey (3)

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