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\"Inter-Rules\" - The Future?

  • Thursday, October 21 2004 @ 09:40 am ACST
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International Rules Last Sunday Ireland thrashed Australia 77 to 41 in the First International Rules Test. With many AFL stars missing injured or essentially too tired to tour, doubts are raised about the future of the hybrid game. However 46,370 spectators saw the First Test last Sunday at Croke Park, and around 60,000 are expected this Sunday for the Second Test, so public interest is strong. The matches are also televised in Ireland and Australia and attract a great deal of media coverage. The blow-out was an anomaly in 20 years of close contests. It has long been said the greatest threat to the IR series is Australian dominance not Irish, and such a shock result is therefore more likely to raise Australian commitment than dampen it. As Australian Rules and Gaelic football both continue to expand around the world, this coming together at the highest level, the International Rules concept, looks set to stay. But what does the future hold - simply maintaining the current series, or expansion to other countries?

In a series of articles over the past two weeks we have noted that dozens of Aussie Rules/Gaelic football hybrid matches have been played since 1967, not only at elite Test level, but increasingly by the growing number of grass-roots Aussie Rules and Gaelic clubs around the globe. The question is what is the long term future of all this? This article is admittedly highly speculative but the ideas come from what is already happening.


The AFL and GAA have made no secret of wanting to expand the Series into the USA. Some pundits have shown a keeness for this (e.g. this speculative piece). However it is likely to take some years, but is certainly possible. The USAFL claims over 2000 registered players, half of whom descended on Atlanta for the recent, increasingly professional US Nationals (see earlier story), furthermore the USAFL seems on the verge of having games televised which should fuel growth of Aussie Rules. Gaelic football has a long history in America, but till recently was a game of Irish expatriates and 1st generation Irish-Americans. That has now changed, with a solid emphasis on junior development that sees young Americans of all backgrounds taking up Gaelic football. The main GAA ground in New York has seen International Rules games in the past and is due for a major upgrade to Olympic status (previous story). So the scene is set for an Ireland versus Australia Test there.

If the series went to 3 Tests then one could be played in NY. On the back of successful IR interaction between USAFL/ AFL Canada and NAGAA clubs then an obvious curtain-raiser would be an All Stars game of USAFL/AFLCanada vs NAGAA/NYGAA. Such a game, presuming good media and TV coverage with the Australia vs Ireland Test, should be a very strong promotion of the opportunity to play Aussie Rules or Gaelic football in North America.

After some years an International Rules match could take place in early October between the respective Australian Rules and Gaelic All Star teams of the USA and of Canada leading to selection out of those games of national IR sides for the USA and Canada. This may need the USAFL Nationals to move forward in the calendar, but may not if the Australia v Ireland game was a 3rd Test in early November. The curtain-raiser for the 3rd Test could then be Canada vs USA in International Rules. Such a billing: "Canada vs USA; Australia vs Ireland", preceded by telecasts of Melbourne or Dublin Tests, could grab the attention of the North American sports journalist, fan, and potential player - the latter who can choose whether to play a full tackle oval ball game or partial contact round ball code as his preferred pathway to representing his country.


A similar format could work for mainland Britain. A third Test at The Oval in London could be preceded by a mainland British GAA vs British Australian Rules Football League match. London, like New York, already play in the All Ireland County scene and have raised the prospect of an IR game against the BARFL. Eventually an English and even Scottish IR team could play off. A "6 Nations" International Rules then becomes a long term possibility.

Such a prospect may offend many traditional fans of Australian Rules and Gaelic football, fearful the hybrid will swallow the parent codes. However this reporter thinks the pathway to International Rules would remain through Australian Rules and Gaelic football as new players of North American and British background still have to play those sports to make the IR team. Thus players gain an appreciation of the code they play most of the year. Meanwhile national representation at the respective Australian Rules International Cup (a full review of the 2002 series will appear on worldfootynews.com soon) and Gaelic World Cup is available. The promotion for both codes of high profile IR games 20 years or so from now involving the USA, England and others could be enormous.


And of course one should not forget the quite immediate potential of Women's International Rules - see our earlier story on the sport's potential.


One doesn't have to look to the future to see the effect IR is already having on the rules of its parent codes. Already the AFL's pre-season competition has seen innovations such as no pick up of the ball when lying on the ground, ball stays in play when bounces off goal-post, kick-in from an out of bounds, and no mark with backward pass to team-mate.

And talk of bringing in the mark, the direct pick up of ball off the playing surface (see recent story in The Kingdom), and even the tackle gets a regular fillip in GAA circles after each Test series. In 2003, Sean Breathnach, president of Kerry GAA said International Rules "has proved both enjoyable and competitive and gives our top players an international outlet. It is to this game that we should look for changes to our own game .... The mark, the tackle and the direct pick up are three areas in particular from the Australian game that should be looked at". Nonetheless such changes only take place when the bulk of fans, players and coaches are on side.


The articles over the past fortnight have revealed the high level of cooperation of Aussie Rules and Gaelic clubs around the globe as they face similar challenges in foreign climes. Back home it could be said that the AFL and GAA face very similar challenges themselves. Both are popular national games that have most competition from soccer and rugby in their biggest cities (Sydney and Dublin). Both are now having to compete with soccer and Rugby in an increasingly global world of regional leagues and world cups. Both play their grand finals on the last weekend in September. Why not make October a month to further cooperate and explore an even greater international dimension of their own?


Finally, fatigued of typing "International Rules" and not fully happy with "IR", and feeling along with the GAA and AFL hierarchy that "Compromise" is perhaps outdated - what about "Inter-Rules" for a short, easy to say name in the future that conveys both the International and Inter-sport aspects of this hybrid game.