The International Rules series between Ireland and Australia has seen some experimentation with rules from the opposing code or the hybrid code back into the parent codes. Several of the experimental rules in the AFL's pre-season Wizard Cup over the years have reflected this. Gaelic football is also experimenting, and the current National Football League season has incorporated a number of new rules including the direct pick up of the ball off the ground (as is in International Rules). Further changes have been discussed, raising the prospect of Gaelic and Australian Rules football moving closer together.
Over the past few weeks this World Footy News reporter has posted a series of reports on International Rules. Though favourably disposed to the hybrid game and a believer in its possibilities, I had not seen a live Test since 2001 in Adelaide. In 2003 only the Rugby WC was available on TV in the UK, and mercifully I didn't have access to witness Ireland's whitewash of Australia in the IR First Test last week. So it was with anticipation that I ventured to the Cusack Stand of Croke Park with family and friends from Australia, Wales and Ireland.
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?
Readers may be surprised to know that there is a lot of player interchange and playing of compromise/international rules between the growing number of Gaelic and Australian Rules football clubs in East Asia. The following report is not exhaustive and focuses on Hong Kong, Singapore and Tokyo.
In Germany there are a handfull of GAA and Aussie Rules clubs and a consistent report that there were Compromise rules matches played in the early 90s in Dusseldorf, but records of those games seem to have been lost with the comings and goings of early teams. Now the Gaelic and Aussie Rules clubs have more stability and it is in Munich where there has been a version of International Rules played on and off for the past 7 years.
In March, the Sydney Women's AFL played the local New South Wales (Australia) Women's GAA in an International Rules match. It is hoped that this will see the start of cooperation and expansion for the women's version of the two codes in NSW, perhaps even leading to a women's IR series between Australia and Ireland.
There is no doubt that both Gaelic football and Aussie Rules are growing in North America. Gaelic football has been established much longer in America, and with Australian footy growing fast, opportunities exist for the sports to work together. The New York football scene is a great example of what might be achieved.
In this second istalment on the "spread of the hybrid", having noted the established 7 year tradition in Denver, Colorado, we head north to Canada's western provinces. Here clubs at the edge of Aussie Rules' and Gaelic football's lonely frontiers are also keeping match fit, exchanging player talent and enjoying good cross-cultural "craic" (Irish for a helluva lotta fun).
Withdrawals through injury, weddings, expectant births and perhaps some long season burnout have changed the character of this year's Australian team for the International Rules series. But maybe that will actually give the Aussies an edge.