THEY have evaluated it, criticised it, condemned it, called for an end to the experiment and now, having exhausted their vocabulary of reproof, have begun to change their minds: “Ah, change the rules and the series can be saved.”
Ever since that International Rules debacle at Croke Park sullied once more the image of the hybrid invention there have been calls from most quarters for an end to the pretence that this is good for Gaelic football.
But some sections of the national press will not let go. For some reason they want new rules introduced to eliminate the thuggery that marked this latest episode in the violent relationship between those two codes.
But the simple fact is that no rule, no matter how stringent, will legislate for a mindset built around the inherent need of many Australian footballers to demonstrate their superior physical power.
For some years this column has been calling for an end to the experiment because of the primal aggression displayed by some members of the Australian teams over the years. No series has been devoid of open hostilities or of conflicting reasons given by officials for the cause of the flare-up.
The fault lies mainly with the Australians. The Irish are no angels when it comes to illegal challenges, but the men from down under, many of Irish extraction, are clearly the main aggressors. Two years ago they singled out Ciaran McDonald for special treatment at Croke Park.
McDonald’s finesse was more than any of their players could match, his creativity a threat to their hopes of victory. But in tackling the Mayo man they found an unflinching foe, who survived their ruthless challenges and in the process dented their macho pride.
The nature of the Australian tackling has been criticised after every test match, and promises made by officials of the two countries to stamp out the violence. They met at the beginning of this year and it was stated that the AFL had expressed regret for the violent scenes that marred the tests in Melbourne and Perth a few months earlier.
From that contrite atmosphere emerged an agreement to rid the games of its habitual savagery. It was agreed that any player guilty of a red card offence would be sent off for the rest of the game and not replaced. A penalty kick would be awarded to the opposition. A tribunal hearing would determine any further penalty.
It was also decided that any player guilty of a yellow card offence would be sent off for fifteen minutes without being replaced. Two yellow cards would incur dismissal for the remainder of the game etc.
A statement from both parties articulated their stance on violence: “There is no place for that sort of activity on any sporting field and both the AFL and the GAA agree that those sort of incidents have no place in our game.”
The green light was thus given for the return of the Australians to Ireland . . . to Galway for the first time before a capacity crowd in Pearse Stadium. A tame first half drew the wrath of commentators, implying in their observations that the visitors lacked heart and courage. The comments were like a red rag to a bull, menacing and inflammatory. The pride of the Australians was hurt, their dander up.
They made no secret of their intention to sort out a few players in the return game. And before the ball was thrown in at Croke Park the Irish were met with a hail of barbarity. Red cards? Yellow cards? Warnings? . . . nothing was issued. It was a disgraceful exhibition of nauseating, pre-meditated brutality that drew instant condemnation from the president of the GAA Nickey Brennan.
Brennan spoke of his embarrassment in the company of the President of Ireland, Mary McAleese, and the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, at the ugly scenes, and hoped that the series of tests had come to an end.
Similar calls for an end to the experiment have been made virtually daily since, but of late a watering down of the occurrence has commenced and no doubt officials will eventually be urged to engage with the AFL in the hope of introducing further rules to prevent a recurrence of the mayhem.
They are wasting their time. Rules will not tame a race that prides itself on physical superiority. We had argued once that the Australians’ desire to hit out had sprung initially from their inability to match the craft of the Irish, and that with time and determination they might reach similar levels of skills, thus resisting the urge to resort to violence.
Last week’s episode ended such hope. The visitors showed they had indeed reached, or perhaps surpassed, the proficiency of the Irish, but it was still necessary to exhibit a loutish desire to vent their basic feelings . . . before the game got under way.
In the white heat of battle you can understand the occasional flare-up – and Gaelic games are not free from outbreaks of violence on and off the field – you can understand without condoning it. Indeed, Sean Boylan, who so vehemently decried the assaults on his players, was himself no shrinking violet in defending his own hard men while in charge of Meath.
What the Australians did, however, was pre-meditated. It was a mockery of sport. They had signalled their intentions to settle a few scores, and before 80,000 spectators could not let the opportunity pass to parade their ruthless behaviour.
It is time to end this charade.
Tourmakeady deserve their moment of glory
SUBSTITUTE Adrian Dolan was the toast of Tourmakeady on Sunday evening. His two points in the final minute of a thriller at MacHale Park secured a dramatic win for the Gaeltacht side to capture the county intermediate title.
It looked as if a draw was on the cards. Parke had rallied gallantly to take the lead following a goal by Richard O’Boyle eighteen minutes into the second half, and we thought that Tourmakeady were about to pay dearly for another of their notorious lapses.
But just as they had done in their semi-final clash with Ballintubber, the men from the Gaeltacht eventually found the inspiration to break that unresponsive spell that seems to grip them on occasions.
The introduction of Adrian Dolan, a masterstroke by manager Pat Burke, was the vital move that swung the game back in their favour. His final winning point was taken with the conviction of a man straining on the leash for an opportunity to get into the game.
It was a game full of excitement and good football, and coming hot on the heels of one of the best senior finals in years can leave no one in doubt about the quality of football in the county.
Tourmakeady got off to a flyer with a goal by Joe Heneghan scarcely a minute into the game. The build-up was impressive with Michael O’Neill, John Heneghan, Brian and Tom Naughton, and Kevin Dolan, who delivered the final pass, all involved.
It took Parke, who were playing with the help of the wind, thirteen minutes to respond with their opening point by Sean McHale. But by then Tourmakeady had streaked into a lead of six points, and you wondered would Parke ever find the target.
They had plenty of the play with superb performances by Michael Walsh, Declan Neary, John Broderick and Sean McHale. But they indulged in a lot of wastage, and trailed by two points at the interval.
Tourmakeady, against the wind, were impressive throughout the first half and especially in the first quarter. Sterling defensive work by Brendan and David Prendergast, Padraig Heneghan and Anthony O’Neill, together with the strong running of midfielders Michael O’Neill and John Heneghan provided plenty of opportunities for the forwards.
But after Ciaran Walsh nosed them to three in front five minutes after the break, they lost their drive to resurgent Parke who, slowly and brilliantly, clipped back the lead with points by Simon Cloherty, Eoin Carney and Tom Walsh. At midfield, Declan Neary was influential in that recovery which had Parke on level terms for the first time.
But the essence of Tourmakeady’s victory lay in their ability to spring back with points by Michael O’Neill and Joe Heneghan. They were under greater stress after Richard O’Boyle crashed home Parke’s goal, followed by a point by Sean McHale, to give them a two-point lead with less than ten minutes remaining.
Tourmakeady were at their best in those situations. John Heneghan at midfield played a significant role in their late recovery, and there were contributions from Michael O’Neill, Joe Heneghan, Kevin Dolan, Tom and Brian Naughton, Ciaran Walsh up to his retirement, and his replacement, Adrian Dolan, who stole the show with those timely and decisive scores.