21 October 2004 Edition
No way back for Aussies
Most people who went to the trouble of either attending, or watching on television, last Sunday's International Rules match between Ireland and Australia will have been disappointed. For Irish people, the result will have been welcome although is it my imagination or do people not get anywhere as near excited about GAA players representing their country as their county, or club for that matter.
To be honest, for me there isn't the same emotional pull to this series as there is when I see a team wearing sky blue take to the field. Having said that, Sunday's game also suffered from the fact that it was so one-sided that only an unreasoning fanatic could have remained excited or caught up in what was going on much beyond the end of the first quarter.
So what happened to the famed Aussie spirit and determination? They looked unused to each other and hesitant and there was little of the fire that we have associated with encounters in the past. I have heard a number of excuses given as to why this was the case, including the fact that the Australian panel is no longer representative of the very best players, and that they all have more than one eye fixed on the forthcoming season at home. Most of them are also under 21, so one must assume short of their peak.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the game from a Gaelic football supporter's viewpoint was the evidence it suggested of how far Irish players have advanced in fitness and strength compared to the Australians since the series began. Indeed, when the first Aussie Rules team came to Ireland to play the 1967 All Ireland champions Meath, the Meathmen were run ragged, with several literally reduced to having to stop to catch their breath (an event only surpassed during the Dubs ten-point drubbing of the Royals in 1995!).
That would never happen now but Sunday was the first real evidence that Gaelic footballers have attained at least the fitness levels of their Antipodean rivals. That will come as no surprise to anyone who is aware of the massive qualitative leap forward in training and fitness, not only at the peak of the game at senior level but at all grades. The days are long gone when a junior footballer could have 20 pints on a Saturday and turn out and acquit himself with honour the next morning. Junior soccer maybe!
The only other thing of note from last Sunday was the performance of players who don't often get to grace the national, never mind the international, scene. Mattie Forde of Wexford, Benny Coulter of Down, and Ciaran MacManus of Offaly in particular stood out as players deserving of the larger stage.
Barring a miracle, it is unlikely that the Australians will manage to save this series or even significantly close the 36-point gap and the fear must be on the GAA's behalf that the attendance on Sunday will reflect that.
Apart from the rules series, the other major talking point this week was the rumour that Mick O'Dwyer had resigned from Laois and was about to take over the management of the Dublin senior football team. The rumour appeared to have been inspired but ended on Tuesday when O'Dwyer turned up to a training session with the Laois team. One Machiavellian Dub insider reckons that there was an attempt to have O'Dwyer come in but that this was contingent on Brian Mullins and others withdrawing in his favour. Big Brian never backed down in front of a Kerryman!
All-Stars and club championships
The nominations for the football All-Stars were announced this week. All Ireland champions Kerry have 12 with Fermanagh deservedly gaining seven nominations, ahead of Mayo, who defeated them in the All Ireland semi-final.
International rules, All Stars and the Railway Cup aside, the biggest interest for GAA people at this time of the year is the club scene as county championships end and the All Ireland senior club championship gets underway. There have already been a number of surprises, including the defeats of the likes of Enniskillen Gaels and Rathnew. Their conquerors; Derrygonnelly and St Patrick's, embark on their provincial quests on Saturday.
Speaking of clubs and surprises I must also mention the victory of Joeys in the Dublin Junior Championship to take their first title since 1959. Joeys have helped to keep Gaelic games alive in the North Inner City for generations but are still without a permanent home. Hopefully, this will go some way to solve that problem.
Enemies of the GAA often go on about what a privileged organisation it is. Well, Joeys are based almost in the shadow of Croke Park and like clubs the length and breadth of the country have survived and in some cases thrived by their own efforts. The fruits of that have not only been on the playing field but within their communities, where the club has been the provider of what former Dublin player David Hickey once described as unpaid social work.
In the shadows of the Celtic Tiger and Croke Park and the IFSC, Dublin needs its Joeys and its Sheriff Uniteds and its boxing clubs. Local authority and state support for them is not some kind of a charitable handout, it is a right and a necessity. Maybe that is something that ought to concern Matt Cooper and other enemies of the GAA more than whether soccer should be allowed into Jones's Road.