The End of The International Rules? I Hope Not.

With our country’s finest GAA talent currently preparing for what’s set to be an epic battle in Perth against The Aussie’s, there is a lot of talking going on off the pitch about the future of the series. Is Saturday’s game going to be the final chapter of this topsy turvy journey? Or could it possibly help resurrect the famous duel between ourselves and our Australian counterparts? Either way, it has given us some memorable moments, and I for one hope it will give us many more.

Where has the series faltered in recent years?

  • Discipline (or lack of).

Don’t get me wrong, I love a physical contest in sport whether it’s playing or watching. Take last weekend’s November Test game between France and Australia. It was scary just watching that game, never mind placing yourself in the boots of an Aussie centre with the 19 stone Mathieu Bastareaud charging like a bull towards you. However at least you’d know what was coming. You’re gonna be flattened like Wile e Coyote in ‘Road Runner’, but at least it would be in a fair non viscous way.

However the International Rules Series took an ugly turn through many of the games in the 2000s. Instead of physicality we got brutality. Sly digs and cheap shots were been thrown as frequently as the ball was been passed. Were Australia the aggressors? Yes, course they were. At the time there were no further implications for an Aussie being sent off. No fines, no bans in the AFl. Whereas the Irish lads could still face up to a months ban for club and county if shown a straight red card. So if you were an Australian and you seen Ciaran McDonald with his blonde ponytail, white boots and endless amount of talent, would you break the rules in order to stop him? Why not?

Prioritisation 

Is honour alone enough to entice the best players to play?

Like Intercounty Football, top flight AFL is basically a 12 month season. Competitive games start in March with the Grand Final in September. But in both sports, no matter who you are or who you play for, preparation for the following season starts the moment this one ends. These players are pushing their bodies to the limits already, never mind adding in another 8 weeks training and 3/4 games in a whole new physically demanding code.

Haven’t said that, it’s no secret that the GAA lads who make the commitment to the series are looked after financially through expenses and sponsorship. This is the very least they should be getting from an association that they dedicate their lives to. But for the AFL lads who already receive a wage for what they do. Would they be persuaded simply by the extra dollar, or should there be more of an incentive to ensure we see the best they have to offer.

Thankfully this Saturday we will see most of Australia’s best footballers tog out against us. Last year, the AFL’s decision to send an indigenous team looked like the final name in the coffin of the series. Now the dramatic turn around seeing two star packed sides adds to the tension and excitement surrounding this test. Let’s hope it lives up to expectation and top players who are watching on Saturday, will want to get involved next year, and the year after and after and after….

Why we love the series?

My favourite memories of The International Rules would sitting in class in St. Mary’s Diocesan in Drogheda. The school books would be put aside, the teachers would stop teaching and the talkers would stop talking. The game would be switched on, live from Australia. All of a sudden the GAA lads in the class would be the most popular as they explained the rules to the rest of the guys. The banter would be flying round as the Meath lads would cheekily ask what Louth players are on the team, and we’d reply with a lie saying that Graham Geraghty shouldn’t be starting. But at the end of the day, Louth, Meath, Dublin and all of Ireland’s GAA community would be together.

Back then I thought it was only us kids that came up with ‘dream 15s’. However since experiencing ‘bar stool talk’ I know it’s not. “Imagine Cooper and Coulter linking up on the inside line”… With The International Rules we don’t have to imagine. Giles, Canty, O’Sé, Cavanagh, Munnelly, Freeman, more O’Sé’s, Murphy. Some of the best players we’ve ever seen, all playing in the green jersey, for the 1 team.

And let’s not get selfish. It’s not all about the spectators and the fans. Think about these lads. The Aussies and the Irish. They’ve given so much to their respected sports, to their communities, to their clubs and their counties. And for what in return? So many GAA players are heroes today but forgotten tomorrow. It’s only right that they get something in return for everything they’ve given us the fans. That’s why it brings me satisfaction to see the pictures and hear the stories emerging from all the fun and craic the players have been having this week in Melbourne and Perth. It’s only right that they get this fantastic opportunity to represent their country, and play at the very highest level possible.

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What’s Next after tomorrow’s game?

A one off game. Winner takes all. Is this the answer, what’s needed to save the series? Well if ticket sales is anything to go by, it’s already been a success. The 43,500 capacity Patersons Arena is pretty much a sell out. There is a serious buzz building in both countries as these two mammoth teams get set so do battle. I hope this is enough for the GAA and AFL to realise there is a want and a need for the International Rules.

President of the GAA Liam O’Neill has ensured us that the series future does not rest on tomorrow’s game. Thank God, cause we all know that on a given day a game can be utter shite, no matter who’s involved (Take the 2013 All Ireland Final as a prime example). But with a ‘gap year’ looking likely next year, maybe this game has more of an importance than we imagine. Judging from O’Neill’s comments, it looks like the AFL are not entirely convinced on the future. Last year’s indigenous team, this year’s proposals of gap years and moving the games to the USA, do they actually care about it. Maybe not. That is why a fast tempo, hard hitting, high scoring game in Perth tomorrow could go a long way to save the series.

So excuse me if I’m being too nostalgic, but just in case tomorrow is the last one of these encounters we see. Let’s just remind ourselves one of the finest individual display’s we’ve ever seen in GAA’s HQ. Brock, not an Australian despite the name, but  Jack Russell.

Best of luck to Paddy O’Rourke and all the Irish lads in tomorrow’s game.

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