On a night where temperatures at Croke Park dropped to 2C, Ireland were certainly fired up, as they claimed a 56-52 International Rules Series win over Australia to tip the balance in Gaelic Footballs favour – a 10th Series victory out of 19 contested to date.
It was a game of four quarters, but really boiled down to a game of two halves – Irish dominance early on – followed by some Aussie brilliance, as Ireland were pushed to the pin of their collar, before claiming their 21st test win.
38,386 spectators watched on as Ireland were pushed all the way by the dogged Australian’s.
Mayo’s Aidan O’Shea bagged Ireland’s first two goals – one each in the first and second quarters and by half-time Ireland had opened up a 20-point gap on a 43 (3-8-1) to 23 (0-6- 5) score-line, with Monaghan’s Conor McManus netting Ireland’s third six-pointer.
McManus slotting home from the penalty spot, after Paddy McBrearty had initially placed the ball in the net, but was fouled in the process and a penalty was awarded.
The Donegal man had to be substituted after being pushed into the post, suffering suspected kidney damage.
In the second half, the tables almost turned, as Joe Kernan’s men had to defend well late on, with Ireland outscored by 29-13 over the remainder of the tie, but the hosts holding out for a four- point win.
As always much of the talk surrounding this game was about the future of the Series.
Ahead of the contest, Kernan (right) felt this would be the toughest game ever. Aside from the 2 draws over the 40 tests played, just five of those games had smaller winning margins.
An entertaining battle and a close contest, Australia fielded their strongest team – new territory for the hybrid code.
I think the competition is now going to a different level because of what the
Australians are sending over,” Kernan said.
“It’s a challenge for us. I think they were 1/4 last week with the bookies but that means nothing either, it’s what you do on the day.
“It’s a great win, but that’s going to make it harder again next year because knowing Australia and the pride they have, they will certainly not want to lose.
“That’s the challenge for us again. But, yeah, it probably was one of the best wins because of the team they sent and the quality of their management.
“Alastair Clarkson, we all know what he has done, three AFLs in-a-row. He’s a smart cookie and he took his best players from his own club with him, five Hawthorn players and, in fairness to them, when the going got tough they did stand up.
“For ourselves, when you’re playing against the best like that, you have to rise up to that level and, for most of the game, we did that.”
Inspiration from past masters was drawn upon to place Ireland in the correct frame of mind facing into battle.
Kernan knocking on the door of nine-time capped Jack O’Shea from Kerry to present the jerseys on Friday evening.
“Jack O’Shea said: ‘I’ve won seven All-Ireland medals, but every time I meet someone interested in football, they ask me about the Aussie Rules games,” the former Armagh All- Ireland winning manager revealed.
“Well, he couldn’t have said a better thing as far as we were concerned, to get the boys going, if they were doubting anything.”
If Kernan is assured the future of the hybrid code is secured, one man who won’t be part of that is Aussie boss Alastair Clarkson, whose time as head coach came to a close on Saturday night.
He felt his side failed to make effective use of their large amount of possession. “I think the overall possession was 380 to 240 so we controlled the ball,” said Clarkson.
“We had the ball 47 times inside 20 metres of their goal compared to 27 for them.
“So we had significant opportunity, just couldn’t convert some of those chances.
“The Irish played particularly well, controlled it at different stages.
“We just rushed it a little bit more than they did at crucial stages.” And what of the thoughts of Ireland captain Bernard Brogan, who skippered a team in Croke Park for the first time, and also took Man of the Match?
“I didn’t think I would be taking it home. There were lads like Gary Brennan at the end who won three massive balls when the game was in the melting pot, and Conor McManus kicked some lovely scores.
“Some of the tackling in the back line was great also, and the intensity the lads brought today was immense.”
A parting question – It cost €250,000 for 12 weeks of Irish trials involving 70 players – was it money well spent?