Contributed by: Sean Finlayson
The 2006 International Rules Series in Ireland saw Australia retain the Cormac McAnallen Cup, coming from an eight point deficit to win on aggregate in a series embroiled with plenty of controversy, leading to widespread speculation that the annual matches will be scrapped.
After the home side being defeated in the first Test in front of a sell-out crowd at Galway, the second match was played in front of 82,127 Irish fans at Croke Park, a new record for an international of any sport in the country.
A highly publicised incident involving Australia's Brendan Fevola and an Irish barman and the citation of Irish player Graham Geraghty for kneeing Australia's Lindsay Gilbee in the head in the first test ensured ensured a sell out crowd for the second match. Fevola, sent "home" by the AFL, actually holidayed in Europe, then returned to Ireland where he faced place. He has been officially cautioned by authorities, but has escaped charges.
The second Test began with a fracas before the ball up. A series of spiteful clashes from both sides and send-offs in the first quarter set the mood for the match. The Irish were rattled and were down by 6 points at the first change. By half time, the Irish had settled and reduced the widening deficit to just 16 points.
Things got heated after a couple of incidents which would seem acceptable in Australian Rules, but disgraceful to the Irish. Firstly, Australia's Adam Selwood bumped (or shoulder charged) Ireland's Brendan Coulter, knocking him unconscious. The result was a yellow card to Selwood. Bumps like this are not illegal in International Rules football, however the difference in size and body strength of the professional Australian players must be considered. (Editor: At least we think it is legal, and therein lies a problem of constantly changing rules and interpretations).
The critical point, however, was when Australia's AFL Rising Star Danyle Pearce laid a strong tackle on Ireland's Graham Geraghty, leaving Geraghty unconscious and requiring hospitalisation for concussion. The Irish saw it as a "square up" for an incident in the first test and Sean Boylan had some heated confrontations with the Australian coaches Kevin Sheedy and Jim Stynes on the boundary over the harsh treatment of the players and the inaction of the referees. Pearce's tackle appeared to be fair from an Aussie Rules perspective, something which has been reiterated by several officials. The Irish, however, are not used to preparing themselves for such tackles, and it could be seen as being too long, too aggressive and too heavy an impact on the ground. (Editor: It would appear the tackle was held slightly too long after the player lost the ball, although as any Australian Football player would attest, it is very difficult to know when or if the ball has been released, and the rule of thumb is generally to finish the tackle if in doubt).
Going into quarter time, Boylan is said to have been so furious that he called for the game to be called off. If not for his Irish players resolving to continue the game, the Australians may have won by default.
After the main break, the Australians sank a couple of six pointers into the net to break the game apart and continued on to win comfortably. The Sydney Swans' Ryan O'Keefe again starred, as did teammate Barry Hall. O'Keefe was easily Australia's best in the series, earning him the Jim Stynes Medal. Young Brisbane Lions player Justin Sherman was another star of the series. Essendon's Dustin Fletcher was consistently solid as goalkeeper in both games. For Ireland, both Tom Kelly of Laois and Sean Cavanagh of Tyrone were outstanding.
Second test Final scores:
Ireland 0.7.10 (31)
Australia 3.15.6 (69)
Reactions to the series in the media have been mixed, possibly reflecting the cultural differences between the two countries. In Ireland, stories range from elation on winning the first test to branding the Australians as thugs and calling for an end to the series. In Australia, there was plenty of focus on pitch invasions and player security as well as Fevola's off-field antics. There was suprise at the loss in the first test and general indifference on the win and surrounding controversies.
The coach of Ireland and President of the GAA, who have both expressed dire doubts about the future of the series following the game have once again called for a summit with the AFL as soon as possible to discuss its continuation. The AFL will need to be careful about any concessions made to continue the series. With the game resembling Gaelic football more with each series, stricter rules on bumping and tackling risks killing off Australian interest in the series.
Despite the ongoing controversy, the series continues to grow, with more sell out matches and a greatly expanded international television audience since the second series in 1999.
World Footy News