In­ter­na­tional rules gets an­other spin on merry-go-round

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - GAELIC GAMES - COLM O’ROURKE

IMANAGED to an­ni­hi­late over 25,000 peo­ple in Ca­van last week. That is, I listed the county’s pop­u­la­tion as just over 50,000, in­stead of 76,000. Any­way, the na­tives don’t ap­pear to have been too up­set by it.

A lot of the in­crease in the south of the county is based on the spread of Dublin to places like Vir­ginia and Bal­ly­james­duff, they are part of the com­muter belt and there is a far bet­ter chance of young play­ers get­ting a shot at county foot­ball in Ca­van and other coun­ties by peo­ple mov­ing out of the city.

Most of the re­ac­tion to di­vid­ing Dublin for the good of the GAA over the next 50 years seems based on the dam­age to Dublin while still ig­nor­ing the lack of op­por­tu­nity for young play­ers at present. Per­haps there will be more de­bate when the pop­u­la­tion of Dublin reaches one and a half mil­lion, some­thing which is not long away, or will peo­ple still be­lieve that the bound­aries from the past should re­main for­ever more?

Look­ing at the num­ber of games played in Croke Park last week in the Cumann na mBunscol fi­nals — they do a won­der­ful job ev­ery­where — it made me think that those kids should trea­sure their ex­pe­ri­ence be­cause very few will get a chance to play in Croke Park again. That is a pity, but the re­al­ity of not want­ing to em­brace par­tic­i­pa­tion and op­por­tu­nity will be the ex­act op­po­site and there is a price to be paid for that too.

On an­other front, there is op­por­tu­nity. The in­ter­na­tional rules se­ries is on again. Many have not even no­ticed and few, in truth, seem bothered whether it stays or goes. With two games com­ing up in Ade­laide and Perth (Novem­ber 12 and 18) it more or less ruled out many of the lead­ing Dublin play­ers. After win­ning the All-Ire­land they had to turn their at­ten­tion to club duty at a time when the train­ing for Aus­tralia was in full swing. The Dublin fi­nal is to­mor­row be­tween St Vin­cent’s and Bal­ly­mun Kick­hams so play­ers like Philly McMa­hon, Dean Rock, James McCarthy and Diar­muid Con­nolly are ruled out. These are the very play­ers who should be the back­bone of the team.

I don’t know whether they wanted to be in­volved but few would turn down a trip to Aus­tralia and it is a pity that be­ing suc­cess­ful with club and county means that the best play­ers can­not ben­e­fit from this. In many ways those with the best chance of get­ting on the panel were bet­ter off if they were not in­volved with a suc­cess­ful county and their club were out of the cham­pi­onship early, not­with­stand­ing that three Mayo play­ers have been cho­sen.

This prob­lem is go­ing to get worse with a trun­cated sea­son for clubs par­tic­u­larly. It is go­ing to be like get­ting a ton of salmon into one of those small John West tins, there is go­ing to be a very messy ex­plo­sion when clubs get their first ex­pe­ri­ence of this new dawn.

No mat­ter what peo­ple think, it is a sig­nal hon­our to be cho­sen for your coun­try. I saw it first-hand when I man­aged Ire­land in the se­ries at home in 1999 and in Aus­tralia the fol­low­ing year. Those play­ers were com­mit­ted, dis­ci­plined and proud of their coun­try. And it was the only op­por­tu­nity that they could ever get to rep­re­sent Ire­land. They made it show on the pitch too, win­ning at home and away in front of the big­gest crowds to at­tend in Aus­tralia. Over 70,000 showed up in the MCG in Mel­bourne and the Ade­laide Oval was a sell-out.

It prob­a­bly meant even more to those from the six coun­ties to rep­re­sent Ire­land. At a press con­fer­ence be­fore the sec­ond Test, the Aus­tralian trio of Nathan Buck­ley, Shane Craw­ford and Der­mott Br­ere­ton were present along with John McDer­mott, the Ir­ish cap­tain, his vice cap­tain Peter Cana­van, and my­self. If you did not know any­thing about where ev­ery­one was from you would be hard pressed to de­cide which group were from Ire­land as all the names orig­i­nated here.

Any­way, at the time Aus­tralia were hav­ing a vote on whether to be­come a Re­pub­lic. The Aus­tralian play­ers wore badges openly sup­port­ing a Re­pub­lic. Some­body asked Peter Cana­van what he thought of a Re­pub­lic and his re­ply was on the lines of, “what is that?” He was the only one with­out any say in a Re­pub­lic so the hon­our of rep­re­sent­ing Ire­land is strong in the North and es­pe­cially now with the cup named after Cormac McA­nallen. Cana­van was bril­liant in that se­ries.

Yet for all of that, the se­ries is not what it was. There was a time when the chance of an all-in melee drew in the crowds, even if the best game that I ever saw was in Ade­laide in 2000 when the very best play­ers in Ire­land and Aus­tralia played out a draw. There were no fights ei­ther. At its best, the game is a mighty spec­ta­cle with the rules giv­ing enough to both sides as the re­sults over the last 20 years have demon­strated.

Yet this se­ries is im­me­di­ately down­graded by not hav­ing a game in Mel­bourne, which is the home of Aussie rules. It is the same as the Aus­tralians com­ing to Ire­land and not play­ing in Croke Park. Ade­laide is a sleepy sort of place. There will be lit­tle for the play­ers to do there and there is un­likely to be much in­ter­est in the game. Perth will be a dif­fer­ent mat­ter but that will be be­cause it is full of Ir­ish which will lead to a rau­cous at­mos­phere at the game.

Of course many tra­di­tional Gaels feel that this as­so­ci­a­tion with Aus­tralia has pol­luted our game and al­lowed the Aussies get their grubby hands on our best play­ers. If we be­lieve in free­dom for the young then the at­trac­tion of be­ing a pro­fes­sional is the price we pay, al­though there should be some com­pen­sa­tion mech­a­nism to clubs and coun­ties when play­ers move to a pro­fes­sional sport. But try­ing to stop it is a non-starter. You might as well try and stop some­one go­ing to Eng­land to play soc­cer or spend time trav­el­ling in the US. It is part of what this gen­er­a­tion of young peo­ple do now and the GAA do not own them. Of the num­bers who go to Aus­tralia, few make it. The rest get a bril­liant ex­pe­ri­ence and bring new knowl­edge back to our game.

So the in­ter­na­tional rules se­ries gets an­other spin on the merry-go-round. Per­haps there should be a year break after a two-year se­ries, but if it is to sur­vive it needs a long-term plan. At the mo­ment it is strug­gling on, a bit like the Rail­way Cup in the 1970s. Play­ers re­ally en­joy the game and our game has ben­e­fited from rule changes which di­rectly or in­di­rectly came from the hy­brid game.

The Aussies have learned a bit from us too, even if they might not ad­mit learn­ing from the am­a­teurs. Yet sur­vival is not what this is about, there needs to be a plan for the fu­ture or, like the Rail­way Cup, it will run out of track. And soon.

They made it show on the pitch, win­ning home and away

Mayo’s Ai­dan O’Shea has the hon­our of cap­tain­ing his coun­try in the in­ter­na­tional rules se­ries against Aus­tralia

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