Aussies triumph but at a price?

October 28, 2005

Lindsay Gilbee and Colm Cooper
A huge question mark hangs over the future of the International Rules series after virtual all-out war interrupted at intervals during the second International Rules test between Ireland and Australia under floodlights at the Dome in Melbourne. Australia 63 (18 overs, 9 behinds) Ireland 42 (11 overs, 9 behinds) (Australia win Cormac McAnalllen Cup by aggregate of 57 points) In a game in which violence simmered all through, matters boiled over in a disgraceful third quarter that was marked by the dismissal of the hosts' captain Chris Johnson who laid out both Philip Jordan and Mattie Forde. In front of 45,428 fans, Johnson walked but at least another four of his team-mates ought to have joined him on the sidelines as late tackles, third-man digs and consistent fouling peppered their approach. Having shown in the first test at Perth that they had improved their ball skills immeasurably, the Aussies showed their nasty side once again by physically assaulting and bullying the Irish almost incessantly over the 80 minutes-plus. Ireland played much better than they did in Perth despite the intimidation but a consistent lack of aggression, poor distribution and poor shooting bedevilled their attempts at saving face by winning the test if not the series. The homesters trailed by 11-13 at the end of the first quarter but once the Aussies nipped into the lead with an over by Nicky Davis in the 2nd minute of the second quarter, the Irish were forced to play a game of catch-up they never looked like winning. The Aussies used all means to stay in front, stretching, bending and breaking the rules of the game as well as giving the Irish a lesson in the art of shooting overs (points). The hosts signalled their intention from very early on with sub Ryan O'Keeffe flattening Ciaran McManus off the ball in the 6th minute of the first quarter during seconds after being introduced. Ironically, the Aussies failed to include Russell Robertson, the player yellow carded for an horrendous foul on Tom Kelly in the first test, in their ranks. For his part, the Laois man was deservedly awarded the Irish player of the series with yet another brave, faultless and inspirational display. Others to stand up to the Aussies included Sean Cavanagh, Bryan Cullen, Anthony Lynch, Graham Canty, Ryan McMenamin, Ciaran McManus, Sean Marty Lockhart and Ross Munnelly. Gallingly though, Ireland were again dismal up front with the team's failure to bag a goal telling and ultimately fatal to their hopes of at least winning the game. Ireland had a bright start to the match and showed a lot more aggression and purpose than they did in the first test. And when Sean Cavanagh notched an over in the 5th minute to ease into a 0-6 to 0-1 lead, Australia seemed taken aback. A great mark and over two minutes later though by Matthew Lappin signalled Australia's intention to win not only the series but the game as well. Dessie Dolan made up for a bad miss moments later but then from the kick-out Ireland regained possession and Dolan redeemed himself with an over and then a behind by Stephen O'Neill had Ireland sitting pretty on the back of a 10-4 with 10 minutes gone. The Aussies stepped on the gas though from there to the break and out-scored the visitors by 7-3. In what wasn't quite as hectic an opening quarter as was witnessed in the opening quarter in the fist test, Ireland maintained their lead despite seeing two goal chances being spurned. The second quarter saw Australia turn a 11-13 deficit into a 31-18 lead with behinds by Colm Cooper, Sean Cavanagh and an over and a behind by Ross Munnelly keeping Ireland afloat in that period. It was a full ten minutes before Colm Cooper opened Ireland's second quarter account after the Kerryman snatched at his shot under pressure when, moments earlier, a goal chance seemed to beckon on foot of Padraic Joyce's quick free. And when Daniel Milburn fired in a behind in the 17th minute of the second quarter, Ireland found themselves trailing by double scores, 14 to 28, and faced with a fight to save face and maintain some pride. Such was the paucity of Ireland's offensive efforts that Gooch's single pointer was Ireland's only score in a full 20 minutes either side of the second quarter interval. Ireland continued to turn the ball over with embarrassing frequency with their distribution and shots at goal leaving an awful lot to be desired. The Aussies thundered into the Irish on and off the ball and succeeded in total in intimidating their opponents and rifling over match-winning scores. The hosts looked to be comfortable and assured and far more enterprising in going forward and their 20 point haul in the second quarter was telling. Ireland were a much more purposeful and focussed team on the restart and actually won the third quarter but their kicking in front of goal continued to leave a lot to be desired. Irish team-manager Peter McGrath took the decision to employ Bryan Cullen in goal for last quarter and the tactic seemed to work. That said, Ireland got off to tentative start and after Forde dumped, the ball was worked up to Matthew Lappin whose fine mark and subsequent behind had Ireland on the backfoot. Anthony Lynch was presented with a goal chance moments later but from an acute angle fired into the side netting. The Aussies kept up the pressure at the other end and Cullen was quickly brought into the action. Cullen had to fist clear from under his crossbar as the Aussies stretched their eight point lead to 13 by the 6th minute. The high tackles continued to rein in and a high tackle by Luke Hodge on Ryan McMenamin went unpunished before Ronan Clarke fired over his second over to leave 13 points between the sides. The hosts upped the ante once again though and two overs by Daniel Ciracuso and Andrew Lovett - after an empty goal gaped - left Ireland trailing by 36-52 with 12 minutes left to play. The pace of the game slackened patently from there to the finish with Ireland chasing a lost cause and Australia merely content to hold what they had built up. With ten minutes left to play the war was well and truly over and the battle too it seemed as Ireland faced into a 36-54 deficit. Despite one of the best overs of the day thereafter from Ciaran McDonald (12th), Ryan O'Keefe maintained the Aussies' 18 point lead with his 4th over. Moments later Bryan Cullen dived low to deny Nicky Davis the only goal of the game. Pointedly, Davis's chance was the only clearly engineered goal opportunity of the game, something which helped highlight Ireland's travails on the night. Ireland - Michael McVeigh; Tom Kelly, Sean Og O hAilpin; Bryan Cullen, Ryan McMenamin, Anthony Lynch (1); Sean Cavanagh (10), Graham Canty (1); Philip Jordan, Benny Coulter (2), Ross Munnelly (4); Dessie Dolan (4), Padraic Joyce (3), Ciaran McManus (6). Interchange players; Stephen O'Neill (1); M Forde, C Cooper (1), T O Se, K McDonald (3), B Dooher, S Martin Lockhart, R Clarke (6) Australia - Justin Fletcher; Chris Johnson, Brett Delideo, Matthew Lappin (10); Andrew McLeod, Nathal Eagleton (2), Lindsay Gilbee (2); Brent Harvey, Luke Hodge (1); Daniel Canciracuso (4) Shannon Grant (9), Andrew Lovett (3); Eamon Buchannan (4), Nick Davis (3), Darren Milburn (1). Interchange players; Luke Harte, Shannon Grant, Ryan O'Keefe (14), Trant Croad (1), Brent Maloney, Aaron Davey (5), Jarrad Waite (1), Grant Makepiece (3) Referees - Matthew James (Australia), Michael Collins (Cork)

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