AFL typecasts its International Rules team
Friday, October 14 2005 @ 06:55 am ACST
Contributed by: Peter Parry
This year's International Rules series between the selections of the AFL and GAA is coming up and the Australian team has been picked with an emphasis on a tactical approach to beating the Irish rather than basing the squad on the All-Australian team. WFN takes a preview of the Aussie side.
In past years Australia has tried to stem Ireland's speed and skill with the round ball with tall classic Aussie rules stars to outmark lighter opponents and tackle and intimidate the Irish into turnovers.
In some matches that worked well. Justin Leppitsch's domination of the air in Australia's clean sweep in Dublin in 2000 comes to mind. That was the same series where Justin Akermanis struck Irish star forward Graham Geraghty. Following that series, commentators on both sides of the globe felt the series would be killed off by the domination of Australia's professional athletes against Ireland's willing amateurs. Now the critics say the AFL players' lack of skill with the round ball means they're out of their depth.
But as James Hird noted after last year's double defeat in Croke Park, the Irish have simply taken the hybrid game to a new level. They have adapted to the tackling, can break tackles and lay them almost as well as AFL players, and in Croke Park their pace and agility saw them outmark Australian opponents more often than not. The Irish then revel in the foot speed that paradoxically Gaelic football stymies with its "4 steps and only 1 bounce" restriction on the ball carrier, by running the corridor flat out taking the full 45 metres (15 metres and 2 bounces) that International Rules permits. This allows their forwards time to peel off Australian defenders and make space for passes.
Ireland has always selected a squad (this year's is here) that they think can best defeat Australia. The very best Gaelic football team - the All Stars - GAA's equivalent to the AFL's All-Australian team, have never taken the field against Australia, although many All Star players are considered good for the international rules series. Finally the AFL has decided to severe the All-Australian link too and select a team with an emphasis on speed and agility, most likely to defeat the Irish and regain last year's lost pride.
Whilst that in one way diminishes the concept - it is not the best Australian rules team out on the field (but neither is it the best classic Gaelic football team); in another way it raises spectator anticipation - Australia will have a team suited to the hybrid code too.
Kevin Sheedy, Essendon and now Australia coach, brings his football brains to bear on this, as reported in this article from The Age.
The break with the All-Australian team will also stop the embarrassing player withdrawals. Ireland too has its withdrawals for weddings, births, post-season operations, but perhaps some of the Aussie withdrawals have been from players knowing they are not best skilled to represent Australia in this hybrid code. Unfortunately, despite all the progress indicated on this website, it will be a long while before the classic Australian rules All-Australian team can take on a worthy opponent on an oval. Meanwhile the hundreds of thousands of fans of this International rules form of kicking, marking, handpassing, tackling, fast and high scoring game will finally enjoy seeing two cherry-picked teams go head to head.