Burning Issue: Should we care more about the International Rules series?
The latest International Rules series gets underway next weekend but you’d barely know given the lack of hype surrounding it. So, should we care more? Two JOEs get their debating caps on…
Declan Whooley says... many of Ireland’s finest footballers will get the opportunity to represent their country and that alone should have us not simply going through the motions of an International Series, but embracing it and looking forward to the challenge.
It has to be said, like all things GAA, it isn’t without its problems, many of which have already been highlighted in the media. Of course Michael Murphy and others should never be in the position where it comes to deciding to choose club or country, but we know only too well that County Boards struggle with fixture congestion.
It is a problem for inter-county fixtures, never mind an International Series, though you would think that, with the dates known well in advance, blocking two weekends off across the board wouldn’t be beyond the realms of possibility.
That perhaps is an issue to be discussed during the Series Review and addressed for the next time around, but the immediate future is the provisional 29 man panel – to be whittled down to 23 after the weekend - and the task at hand of beating the Australians.
It’s an obvious point, but international recognition for an amateur sportsman in the world of GAA is still something to be coveted. At the moment 15 counties are represented and even more clubs can bask in the glory of one of their own pulling on a green jersey. There are only eight survivors from the 2011 squad so a whole raft of players will be getting their first taste of the hybrid game.
And it is easy to forget the players during the discussion of the Series, but there is little negative feedback on their end, aside from the obvious issue of club commitments. Understandably in the past players were more enthusiastic over the prospect of travelling Down Under, but Paul Earley has been fulsome in his praise of the commitment shown by his training panel so far.
Unfortunately we will be shorn of any Kerry representatives, while the likes of Brendan Murphy and James McCarthy are too involved with their respective clubs, but it remains a strong panel. Critics will point to a weakened Aussie touring party and while the indigenous panel might not be as strong as previous years, they do possess strong running athletes and, as has been suggested in some quarters, could well possess a stronger team spirit than other team parties, which could be needed should they fall behind.
With an average crowd of more than 45,000 at Croke Park since the Series was revived back in 1998, there is clearly an appetite for the game. Some of this is interlinked to the dust-ups which were a feature for a few years and often went overboard, but GAA fans have clearly been interested to see how county rivals combine when placed on the same side. With the demise of the Railway Cup, it is the best opportunity of seeing this coming to pass.
Above all else, the Series needs the games to be competitive as landslides victories will do to enhance the game, regardless of the winner.
The Series is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but for two weekends we will have 23 players looking to lower Aussie colours. For a country that takes it’s sport seriously, getting behind some of our top players in our most popular sport at international level shouldn’t be too much of an ask.
Conor Heneghan says... there is a lot to like about the International Rules as a concept and plenty of reasons why it should work.
Like the GAA in Ireland, Aussie Rules is more or less confined to Australia and the chance for participants in both codes to play in an international setting and display their skills to a wider audience should really hold greater appeal than it does.
From our own point of view, given the amount of effort expended by GAA players year in, year out, nobody would begrudge them a trip to Australia every few years as a reward for their hard work and their status as the best Gaelic Footballers in Ireland.
But for a number of reasons, it doesn’t appear to be working and to be honest, it’s hard to whip up enthusiasm about the series when there’s such a level of apathy from so many of the parties involved.
At home, some of the best footballers in the country have turned down the chance to represent Ireland in the series and a lot of them have very good reasons too, whether it be injuries, work commitments or their eagerness not to disappoint their club teams after so long involved with the county team during the spring and summer.
As I’ve said, the reasons for the absence of said players is completely understandable, but would there have been such a spate of withdrawals when the series was at its most popular in the early to mid-00s? Arguably not.
The players, though, are the least deserving of blame. How can they be expected to wholeheartedly buy into it, for example, when the current captain, Michael Murphy, might miss the first of two tests because of a failure to reschedule the Donegal county final the following day?
Leighton Glynn of Wicklow once played club football championship the day after his involvement in a series (and club hurling championship the day after that) but the fact that Murphy will be forced to make a decision between his club and his country tells you all you need to know about the status of the International Rules series.
And where has the marketing campaign been behind it? Bar the odd ad or two here or there you’d barely know it was taking place, but should we expect any better?
After all, this is an association that holds the draws for the Championship season about nine months before they will take place, whose lack of build-up to the Championship when it does come around is laughable and that expect us to buy a ridiculously confusing tagline for its second major competition. Even now, we have absolutely no clue what ‘Unexpect the expected’ is supposed to mean. Answers on a postcard please.
In fairness, we’re hardly the worst offenders. In the last meeting between the sides in 2011, there was an almost embarrassing lack of interest shown by the Australian outfit. The top players were conspicuous by their absence and the lack of media coverage of the event was a reflection of the non-existence of public interest.
The decision to play the second game on the Gold Coast and move it away from the AFL stronghold of Melbourne backfired but even when it was in Melbourne the public hardly turned up in their droves and a large percentage of the ones that did were Irish ex-pats.
The policy of naming an all-indigenous Australian squad is an interesting one and could well have a positive effect on the series overall, but the jury is out for now.
A lot of good GAA people have a desire for the International Rules series to be a success but there are an awful lot of factors working against it. Because there is so little space in the calendar, it falls at the end of both the GAA and the AFL’s season and therefore isn’t always appealing to top players looking to recover from injuries or simply in need of a rest at the end of a long and demanding season. There are economic factors to consider, especially given the distance between both participating countries.
From a playing perspective, meanwhile, people don’t seem to know what they want.
A move away from the rules which allowed some of the thuggery that took place in the meetings up to 2006 was entirely necessary but with the bloodlust taken out of the equation, the more sanitised version of the game doesn’t appear to have the same appeal, as sad a reflection as that might be on both sides.
Like I said at the top, there are a lot of reasons why the International Rules series should work but people don’t seem to buying it. And when they’re not, it really is hard to care too much about whether it is a success or whether it has a sustainable future.