International Rules Second Test Preview

Saturday, October 30--
2010 Irish Daily Mail International Rules Series
 Second Test
Páirc an Chrócaigh: Ireland v Australia, 7.00pm
Ireland will chase a seven-point aggregate deficit when they face Australia in the second Test of the 2010 Irish Daily Mail International Rules at Croke Park on Saturday night.
It's hardly an ideal scenario for the home side, but it could have been far worse , had Anthony Tohill's side not staged a late comeback at Limerick's Páirc na nGael last week to, as the Ireland manager put it, "save the Series."
Bernard Brogan was the Irish saviour on the night, his goal with five minutes left on the clock sparking the home side and the crowd into life following 67 frustrating minutes.
Ireland finished with 11 unanswered points to reel in what at one point had been a seemingly irretrievable gap. For many, though, the late flourish only papered over the cracks.
Australia led by increasing margins at the end of each quarter - 12-9, 21-16 and 32-22 - and Ireland were staring into the abyss at 47-29 down when Brogan finally threw off the shackles to ram home the only goal of the game.
It was the one true moment of inspiration in the game and crucially it came when Ireland ran at the Australian defence for the first time with real intent and pace. Up to that point, Ireland had chiefly gone the direct route, feeding high balls into Tommy Walsh, Michael Murphy and Bernard Brogan in the full-forward line.
It was a gambit that backfired somewhat, as winning clean rather than breaking ball is all-important in the hybrid game. Ireland frequently opted to launch the ball into the forwards from distance, giving the forward line few opportunities for ‘marks', whereas the Australians worked the ball closer to goal before attempting to find their target men. With Benny Coulter, one of the finest attacking fielders of the ball in the game, recovered from a hamstring injury, however, Ireland's options up front will at least be bolstered. At times, the Irish players' shot selection was unwise and they kicked twice as many behinds (one point) - largely from distance - as their opponents.
Australia's conversion rate was also far more impressive. They scored 14 ‘overs' to Ireland's 10 from fewer chances and with less of the ball. Adam Goodes' 12-point haul meant he finished as top scorer on the night, and his ball-winning ability at full-forward - from limited opportunities, it should be noted - was crucial to their success. Michael Shields, who is included in the squad after missing the first Test due to Club commitments with St Finbarr's, could be asked to look after the Sydney Swans man - a move that would allow fellow Rebel Graham Canty to move further out the field.

The ease with which the Australians adapted to the round ball was a surprise to many, but their 105-12 defeat of a combined Cork colleges side last week should have been sufficient warning that Mick Malthouse had assembled a squad of crack footballers and superb athletes capable of ruffling a few feathers. That reality dawned on most in Limerick within the first quarter. The visitors were slick in possession, played at a breakneck speed and ultimately were far more clinical in attack.
Worryingly, the record books show that it is the Australians who are capable of improving most between Tests. Another week with the round ball should improve their ball skills and shooting, but it is the home side who need to up their game if they are to retain the Cormac McAnallen Cup.
Prior to the first Test, Tohill argued that it was of great benefit to have six players with AFL experience - Tadhg Kennelly, Shields, Martin Clarke, Colm Begley, Tommy Walsh and Brendan Murphy - in his squad. Few - if any - of those players enjoyed the best of nights in Limerick and Tohill will be looking for a vast improvement at Croke Park.
Tohill will also be looking for the intensity levels and passion to be ratcheted up. The first Test was low on intensity and the crowd only came into play in the last five minutes. With a bumper crowd expected at GAA Headquarters, the home players will be expected to provide the thrills.
Should the Australians build on their lead and regain the Cormac McAanallen Cup, it will be the third successive Series to be won by the touring side. Australia in 2005 were the last team to win the Series on home soil.
As Ireland learned last Saturday night, goals are a precious commodity in the code and can quickly turn a game. In winning the 2008 Series, Ireland scored seven six-pointers over the two legs, three in Perth and four in Melbourne. They won the Series by just five points - 102-97 - proving the old adage that goals do win games, especially in the hybrid game.
Australian manager Malthouse will have a full hand to pick from, with Geelong pair Travis Varcoe and David Wojcinski back in the frame after missing the first Test through injury. Similarly, Tohill has more options this time, as Shields and Coulter return to the match day 23. Emmet Bolton and Niall McNamee drop out.
Australia: Adam Goodes, captain (Sydney Swans), Todd Banfield (Brisbane), Eddie Betts (Carlton), Matthew Boyd (Western Bulldogs), Daniel Cross (Western Bulldogs), Patrick Dangerfield (Adelaide), Paul Duffield (Fremantle), Dustin Fletcher (Essendon), James Frawley (Melbourne), Bryce Gibbs (Carlton), Sam Gilbert (St Kilda), Tyson Goldsack (Collingwood), Brad Green (Melbourne), Garrick Ibboston (Fremantle), Kieran Jack (Sydney Swans), Jarrad McVeigh (Sydney Swans), Leigh Montagna (St Kilda), Jack Riewoldt (Richmond), Kade Simpson (Carlton), Dane Swan (Collingwood), Travis Varcoe (Geelong Cats), David Wojcinski (Geelong Cats).
Ireland: Steven McDonnell, captain (Armagh), Finian Hanley, vice-captain (Galway), Colm Begley (Laois), Bernard Brogan (Dublin), Graham Canty (Cork), Seán Cavanagh (Tyrone), Martin Clarke (Down), Stephen Cluxton (Dublin), Brendan Donaghy (Armagh), Leighton Glynn (Wicklow), Daniel Goulding (Cork), James Kavanagh (Kildare), Paddy Keenan (Louth), Tadhg Kennelly (Kerry), Seán McDermott (Roscommon), Ciarán McKeever (Armagh), Kevin McKernan (Down), Brendan Murphy (Carlow), Michael Murphy (Donegal), Kevin Reilly (Meath), Michael Shields (Cork), Tommy Walsh (Kerry), Benny Coulter (Down).