International Rules: Bourne again Clarke sees much room for improvement
IT was nearly the tour that never happened for Killian Clarke. Bright-eyed in the early morning queue at Dublin airport last Sunday, he didn’t make it past the check-in desk.
When the Cavan man went to drop off his bags, a problem arose with his passport. He wasn’t able to get through with the rest of the squad but was able to fly out on Monday morning along with Aidan O’Shea, who’d stayed home to attend a friend’s wedding.
“I think I ran up a few more red flags than Jason Bourne trying to get through the airport. Interpol were asking a few questions,” said Clarke.
“It was just an issue or two with the passport, I had to get a later flight out the next morning with Aido [O’Shea]. We didn’t miss too much, just a day adjusting to the climate.”
The acclimatisation process has been a struggle for Ireland, between the vomiting bug and a few knocks. Thursday’s training session was cut short amid blistering sunshine, and not before the team had taken six water breaks.
Half the battle for Joe Kernan was trying to balance the workload so that Ireland had done neither too much nor too little by the time they hit Adelaide Oval on Sunday.
“It was tough work. We’re probably still adjusting to the heat a wee bit, and that was the hottest day we’ve had so far. It’s a disappointing result overall,” said Clarke after his side’s 63-53 defeat.
“You have to find the balance and we probably didn’t just get that 100 per cent right. Personally, I felt the heat a wee bit strong and was trying to get my breath a wee bit more than others.
“Next week’s a different story. We’re after being exposed to the heat now, and the pace of the game.
“The Aussies move the ball very well, their kick-passing was better than expected, which was hard to defend.”
The hosts created the illusion of only having gathered up on Thursday to prepare, but Australian coach Chris Scott let the cat out of the bag post-match by revealing his players had all been given a round ball weeks ago.
Several of the Irish camp spoke of their surprise at how good their opponents’ passing was.
It led to a difficult day for the Ireland full-back line, in which Clarke spent much of the day trying to curtail Chad Wingard.
Between him, Nat Fyfe and the imposing Ben Brown, the Australians’ physicality manifested itself in a different way than they had promised during the week. They hurt Ireland with their hands rather than their fists.
There was a lack of pressure on the ball in the middle third, an area that the Aussies took a firm grip of in the second quarter and held until the last 15 minutes.
Clarke pinpointed the hosts’ superior ability to find and utilise space as key.
“They’re probably better at the tackle – in evading our tackles, and also wrapping up a few of our lads. You could see them getting away from lads around the middle a lot easier than we were.
“They could run into traffic and with two handpasses, they were out into space and had an easy kick pass inside then. We’ll work on it this week, we’ll look over the video analysis and tweak a few things.”
The survival of the series as a competitive prospect owes to a fine final quarter from Ireland, who at one stage trailed by 17 points but managed to chop it to 10.
Conor McManus and Michael Murphy led the charge, kicking 45 of Ireland’s 53 points between them, yet there were more scores left behind against an Australian defence that was seriously intent on putting Ireland on the back foot.
“The two boys inside, ‘Mansy’ and Michael Murphy, kicked some lovely scores. The Aussies played a funny game where they left the two boys free and the goalkeeper was playing as a sweeper.
“It didn’t work out the last time for them in Croke Park, but it paid a bit of dividends today. A few balls over the top, the ’keeper was out like a shot. We’ll have a look and see if we need to tweak our tactics a little bit to adjust to what they’re bringing to the table.”
McManus seemed to spend the interval at the end of the third quarter impressing upon his team-mates that there were opportunities there if the ball was moved quickly enough, but the trick was finding the happy medium.
“It was a bit of a hard one. If we were kicking from a longer distance, it gives the ’keeper the opportunity to get out,” said Clarke.
“It gives the defender a chance to get back and pick up the ball as well. There were a few long balls hoofed in when we were under pressure and it was more of a 50-50.
“We probably should have worked two or three pops and get a different angle that we could find the boys inside correctly. We’ve a lot to work on.”