First blood November 1999

October 30, 1999

John McDermott reaches for the sky
Ireland are go! Hogan Stand reflects on Ireland's phenomenal victory over their (professional) counterparts in Australia. The kitchen sink and all its accessories were thrown at the Irish during the opening half of the second 1999 International Rules Series test in Adelaide on Friday but Colm O'Rourke's brilliant team withstood the early pressure and finished strongly to deservedly clinch back-to-back series. When the hooter sounded for the conclusion of the second quarter - with Ireland's aggregate lead reduced to one fragile point - it looked as though the Australians were going to canter home. They had their homework done this time and spent the opening 20 minutes in splendid ascendancy. The gauntlet had been thrown down . . . only to be picked up by a ravenous Irish pack. The GAA stars of this country did us all proud with their superb performance against a determined bunch of equally fired-up professionals. During the final quarter in particular, their levels of hunger, skill and aptitude for what is really an alien game were bordering on the insane. Twelve training sessions down the line and here was a group of players performing as if they'd played this game all their lives. This was the ultimate examination for our national code. We passed and can now claim justifiably to have players as talented in their own right as any others playing any other sport anywhere in the world. A crowd of 45,187 turned up in Football Park to witness this year's second and final installment of the unique and fascinating hybrid game. Once more, they were served up a tasty dish consisting of speed, skill, innovation, versatility, desire and - notably - tremendous sportsmanship. A relatively low-scoring match compared to those which had gone before it finished level, each team amassing 52 points, but there was no doubting who the real winners were. Ireland had won the series by eight points. Ireland trailed by 19 points to 13 at the end of the first quarter, John McDermott's priceless late goal keeping them in touch. Their only six-pointer of the match arrived a minute before the end of the first period at a time when the homesters had managed to build up an aggregate lead. It was a vital score for a number of reasons: it gained six points, it signalled resolve and - coming at the end of a relentless, sweeping move - highlighted Ireland's potency. Ireland continued where they had left off in Melbourne seven days earlier when Ja Fallon opened the scoring with a spectacular outside-of-the-foot over from out wide on the left. Nathan Buckley levelled the scores after finding loads of space to make a comfortable mark and Mickey O'Loughlin's behind edged the home team in front. The on-form Buckley struck another over and this was followed by behinds from both Ja Fallon and John McDermott, leaving Australia ahead by seven points to five. The game came to life on 13 minutes when Mickey O'Loughlin punched to the Irish net to increase the Aussies' lead to eight points and level the aggregate score. It was all to play for now. Sixty-seven minutes in Adelaide would decide who took the trophy. Over the next five minutes, Australia took the overall lead as prodigal son Graham Geraghty's two behinds sandwiched an over from Nathan Buckley. It was now 78 to 77 in favour of Australia on aggregate. But McDermott's goal - typical stuff from the captain - subtracted from by another over from Buckley meant the travelling posse retained its aggregate advantage at the first hooter, albeit by a narrow two-point margin and trailing by six in this match. Anthony Tohill started the second quarter with an over from a sideline ball but this was soon cancelled out by the formidable figure of Clive Waterhouse. Nathan Buckley and Tohill swapped behinds - strange but true! - and it was 17-23 when a penalty was awarded to Australia after a push by Darren Fay. Shane Crawford showed remarkable composure to slot the ball into Declan O'Keeffe's bottom right corner to give his side a twelve-point cushion. The exhuberant celebrations which followed demonstrated quite clearly just how much the homesters were up for this one. If the writing was on the wall at this point, the Irish refused to read it. Ireland scored a fortuitous behind when Geraghty failed to collect possession and the ball bounced on for a one-pointer but the Aussies cancelled this score out immediately. Anthony Tohill's impressive mark resulted in an over and this inspired Ciaran Whelan and Ciaran McManus to chip in with a behind and an over respectively. Wayne Campbell scored an over and then, right on the stroke of half time, Michael Donnellan grabbed one more point for Ireland when the Galway star appeared to have the goal at his mercy. Half time: Ireland 26 (96), Australia 33 (95) It could hardly have been closer. The third quarter was low-scoring as Ireland battened down the hatches and their defence began to truly excel. Significantly, the influence of Nathan Buckley on the game from this point on was little more than nominal. The only scores in the first seven minutes after half time were two Irish behinds. On 48 minutes, Niall Buckley registered an over. A Mickey O'Loughlin behind put three points between the teams but Brian Stynes equalised after great approach play from Peter Canavan. Mattie Richardson and Peter Bell, with an over apiece, restored Australia's six-point advantage. But Ireland finished the quarter strongest with a behind from Donnellan and on over from a '45' by Trevor Giles. Ireland had 'won' the third quarter by twelve points to seven. Australia now led by 40 to 38, while trailing by 102 to 108! And so to the final twenty minutes of the 1999 International Rules Series - and what a powerful performance from the amateurs! Unlike previous tests, this time the Irish actually finished by far the stronger side and they were most unlucky to only get a draw on the day. The change of tactics authorised by the dream backroom team of O'Rourke, Moran and O'Keeffe worked a treat. Ireland began the final quarter of the series with a Graham Geraghty over and Michael Donnellan - who was to have a magnificent twenty minutes, tormenting the Australians with his pace and direct running - added a behind. Meath duo McDermott and Fay combined to heroically deny the home team a goal and Kildare's Niall Buckley then increased Ireland's lead to five points with an over at the end of a flowing offensive which was undoubtedly one of the best moves of the match. Ireland were totally on top now and Ja Fallon rounded off another breathtaking move with a three-pointer to make it 48-40. With eight minutes remaining, Rowan Smith hit an over for the Aussies but Joe Kavanagh combined with Canavan before firing another over for Ireland. Ben Graham effortlessly hit a 45-yard over for the home team and Donnellan replied with a behind. 52-46. With time running out, Rowan Smith scored an over to reduce the leeway to three points. In injury time, Nathan Buckley returned from the wilderness to which he had been banished for the better part of an hour to score an injury-time post-hooter '45'. The game finished level, 52 points apiece, but it was the gaels who were joyously celebrating and the Australians who were left wondering how they had been outmanoeuvred and outplayed by this slick Emerald Isle machine.   First blood Hogan Stand reflects on Ireland's brilliant eight-point victory over Australia on the day the International Rules Series captured public imagination Down Under. The first test of the 1999 International Rules Series in Australia on Friday October 8th resulted in a memorable win for the visiting party - 70 points to 62. It was a superb all-round performance by the Irish, whose ability to accrue six-pointers proved the vital difference between the two teams. Ireland's two excellent goals - scored by Ciaran Whelan and Ja Fallon - were worth a total of twelve points and leave them in a healthy position for the second leg. While the series is being decided on aggregate scores, there is no doubt that the players are treating each game as a match in itself and both sides were determined to draw first blood on Friday last. The game was spectacularly fast and, incredibly, seemed to pick up pace as the final buzzer approached. When it finally sounded, Ireland had their noses in front mainly - it must be said - because this game appears to have more similarities to gaelic football than Australian Rules (i.e., the shape of the ball). But that's neither to understate the intensity of Ireland's performance nor to detract from the merit of their victory. It may technically be only 'half time' in the series but the sheer joy that greeted the final whistle showed quite clearly that this was indeed an Irish victory. Nothing less. There had been concern over the seriousness being attached to this meeting of codes by the Australian public but, nobody need have worried . . . the locals voted with their feet in emphatic fashion and an unexpectedly large crowd of 64, 350 - the biggest turn-out ever at an International Rules match - flocked through the turnstiles of the Melbourne Cricket Ground in Victoria to feast their eyes on this most curious and captivating of hybrid games (better than football, soccer or rugby?) and open up all kinds of new possibilities for it. After this tasty appetiser, a capacity crowd (40,000 apparently) is now guaranteed for the main course that is the second and final test in Adelaide tomorrow (Friday). You'd never have guessed from the opening 17 minutes that Ireland were the amateur sportsmen. They eased into a 17 points to nil lead and looked as though they were on course to record a facile win but, as time went by, the superior fitness of the professionals began to tell and, had they been more accustomed to the round ball, the Australians would have kicked their way to victory. The homesters dominated much of the final quarter (the period between the 70th and 80th minutes is almost alien territory to the gaels) and had enough chances to haul themselves back into a winning position but their accuracy left a bit to be desired. Ireland led by 64 points to 48 with 68 minutes gone but the Australians came at them hard and reduced the leeway to a mere two points before Ja Fallon struck with a late, late goal For a moment, it looked as though that score wouldn't be let stand as play had been stopped for a late challenge on Ciaran McManus but the advantage rule was invoked in Ireland's favour and they had the comfort of an eight-point 'winning' margin when the hooter interrupted seconds later. Fallon's dummy just before he dispatched the ball to the net was a joy to behold and it was appropriate that Ireland's other goal came at the end of a move which hinged on an even more outrageous dummy from the gifted Galway star. That was in the 45th minute. His 'shimmy' took out two or three Australians, he delivered the ball to Dermot Earley who in turn quickly moved it on to Ciaran Whelan. The Dub blasted an unstoppable shot to the net. A vital score. Ireland led from start to finish. They were 21 points to 14 to the good at the end of the first quarter and led by 33 to 31 at half time. Their lead at the three-quarters stage was a commanding 60-46. Jarlath Fallon had a tremendous match and finished with a personal total of 18 points. His shooting was faultless and his general play was also highly impressive. Seamus Moynihan, Trevor Giles, Dermot Earley, Joe Kavanagh, Sean Martin Lockhart and Finbar Cullen were others who stood out as Ireland played a game which contained much more tactical nous than that of the Australians. The Irish appear to have worked out a game plan, involving lots of short passing (with the luxury of continuous 'marks'), use of the wings and breaking the ball as much as possible. The Aussies, meanwhile, persist with the big high ball up the middle and attempted catches close to the Ireland goal. In fairness, it could well have worked for them. They dominated the possession stakes towards the latter half of the game but couldn't find the range (many of their 'behinds' should have been 'overs'). Sticky speedmerchant Jason Akermanis was detailed to mark Peter Canavan and, while he kept the Tyrone man quieter than normal, it is a great testament to the value of Canavan that he still managed to score 11 points. Trevor Giles looked his usual assured self - an island of tranquillity surrounded by chaos - and he dictated much of the Irish play, also scoring ten points. The man who wore the other No. 11 jersey in this year's All-Ireland final - Cork's Joe Kavanagh - was also up for this game and he struck three mighty overs, two of which arrived in the space of thirty seconds at the end of the third quarter. The Australians had the best player on the pitch in captain Nathan Buckley - a real natural at this compromise game - and they will know that, if they can straighten their boots before Friday, they're still in with a great chance of winning the series in front of their home supporters. Ireland, too, can be optimistic about their prospects. They hold an eight-point lead, they seem to have a good tactical awareness of this novel game and they know there is much more in the tank from the likes of Ciaran Whelan, Anthony Tohill, Brian Stynes, Peter Canavan, Niall Buckley, John McDermott, Glen Ryan, James Nallen and Michael Donnellan, all of whom played within themselves last week. And Graham Geraghty has yet to be introduced. What an amazing collection of talent to have on one team! Ireland have established a soild platform for the first ever back-to-back win in the history of the International Rules series and Friday's second leg promises to be another cracker. Thank God for round balls!

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