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Friday, April 27 2018 @ 04:18 pm ACST

GAA and AFL public comments reflect both desire and difference

International Rules

Recent comments by the GAA Head of Games, Pat Daly, and the AFL Talent Manager, Kevin Sheehan, show that influential figures on both sides are willing to bring the hybrid code series back onto the calendar, but also that different perspectives remain. Daly talks of the need to stamp out violence, Sheehan of cultural differences that are hard to resist under big match pressure.

Daly has long been a passionate advocate for the hybrid code. As a permanent appointee in a senior committee whose president and other positions tend to rotate every 3 years, Daly wields a lot of influence in the GAA. He was quoted on the AFL website on 21st August saying:

"If we’re going to have a contest, both sets of players need to respect each other and abide by the rules… What we’ve had of late is a total lack of respect and a total lack of regard for the rules".

Daly goes on to call for suspensions incurred in the Test matches to apply in the GAA Championship and AFL Premiership seasons:

“I think that’s essential because if there isn’t an effective deterrent, the danger is that fellas will act the bowsie.” (“Bowsie” is an Irish term that translates loosely as "scumbag").

The GAA’s unhappiness with the umpiring/refereeing in recent series goes as far as Daly having canvassed top Rugby League referees to take over as neutral refs for the test matches. He could have something there, the refs in both codes of Rugby seem to command amazing respect from players, however that is probably a cultural thing too and it is not clear that Gaelic and Aussie Rules footballers would suddenly stop questioning decisions.

In some contrast, Sheehan partially downplays the violence that marred the series. In comments similar to those expressed by AFL CEO Andrew Demetriou at the time of last year’s second test match in Dublin, Sheehan supports the performance of the umpires/referees and sees the problem one of cultural difference:

“In one country a bump to someone’s chest can be seen as normal behaviour, whereas in another country it might be seen as an affront similar to punching someone in the face" and "When you get the clash of cultures, the clash of codes in front of a big audience, it can end in flash points as we saw in the first 10 minutes of that game last year.”

Sheehan says there is room in next year’s 150th anniversary calendar for both State of Origin and International Rules, suggesting the AFL Commission will have to make that decision. Despite the knockers from both countries, there is a long history of hybrid contests dating back to Ron Barassi’s touring side of the 1960s - Ireland v Australia has been a fluctuating aspect of the great Australian game for 40 of those 150 years. And although some historians see the postulated Gaelic origins of Australian Football as spurious, some cross fertilization likely occurred – perhaps more going the other way with Irish gold miners returning home, as Gaelic Football for a while adopted behind posts, the mark and an oval ball in the late 19th century.

There is another pressure looming upon the GAA to reconsider playing ball again. As Sheehan, a strong advocate within the AFL for international development (see AFL gives International Footy the thumbs up) pointed out earlier this month the AFL may reconsider the Irish anti-poaching agreement and bring the draft age for international rookies down from 18 to 15 as it is in all other countries. Unsurprisingly this aspect has brought the attention of GAA fans with the website Hoganstand.com running a series of stories on AFL clubs plan biggest recruiting drive yet and Peter Jess' calls for an AFL Europe academy to be stationed in Ireland. Jim Stynes, former Dublin Gaelic footballer, Melbourne Demons star, Brownlow medalist and International Rules player, also sounded a note of warning to the GAA that abandoning the series will lead to unfettered recruiting of their up and coming stars in Stynes says GAA needs International Rules. That could be interpreted by some GAA people as blackmail, but then again Stynes is just highlighting to GAA fans and officials some realities of globalised sport.

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