Ireland improve but leave International Rules laurels behind
International Rules second test: Australia 0-15-8 (53) Ireland 2-10-8 (50) (Australia win the series 116-103)
IRELAND may have come away rueing missed chances and falling that step short of perfection but the reality remained that Australia were simply that bit better over two games.
Only by a small margin mind, certainly smaller than the 13 points that separated them on aggregate. Ireland would have won on Saturday had it not been for their need to push forward and try to rescue the series late on.
They found themselves three points up with the clock running down, knowing that they still needed a goal if the win was to have any impact on the destination of the Cormac McAnallen Cup.
But in the gung-ho attempt to win the series, they lost the test. They played themselves into bother in their own defence and a split-second hesitation from Killian Clarke handed Eddie Betts a free to equalise from.
And in the rush to get the game restarted, Niall Morgan drove his kickout into the first man and Luke Shuey capitalised with a superb game-winning score.
There were again goal chances for the visitors, the difference being that this time, they took two at least. And both of them came early and within the space of a minute.
Both sides had just a single behind each on the board after 8 minutes when Darren Hughes’ tackle started an Irish counter that ended with Gary Brennan coolly driving past Brendon Goddard.
From the kickout Ireland went on the attack and Michael Murphy’s movement opened a gap into which Brennan stole again, and he fed Chris Barrett to blaze Ireland 13-1 ahead on the day.
In many ways it was a similar story to the first test. When Shane Walsh fired over at the very start of the second half, Joe Kernan’s side led by 16, having enjoyed a similar degree of comfort at a similar stage in Adelaide.
But once more the third quarter brought comfort for Australia, hitting a run of four consecutive overs and two behinds whittling the lead down to just two points.
Ireland had looked well set at half-time, and were fired up by Joel Selwood’s late challenge on Chris Barrett that earned him a black card, which took him out of the rest of the game.
He was replaced but it left Australia with just three interchange options for the remainder, yet they still managed to find a way to win.
From an Irish perspective, there were further missed goal chances, the most obvious one right at the very end of the third quarter. Michael Murphy’s handpass in behind just ran too far for Shane Walsh, who had Conor McManus square and no cover, but Goddard just got there first to boot the ball clear.
Walsh and Darren Hughes were also denied by fine saves from the Essendon man, while Niall Morgan – who had an excellent series – made a good stop of his own to deny Eddie Betts.
Joe Kernan railed at the treatment of, and lack of protection for, Michael Murphy but as the tiredness crept in, the inexperience of the Irish showed itself as they were caught unaware of what was on their shoulder time and again in the second half, leading to several turnovers in the tackle.
But that was offset by how well the visitors defended, restricting Nat Fyfe – who did make one spectacular catch – to a more peripheral role. Ireland loaded their own goalmouth and broke everything clear, allowing very few marks in the danger zone.
And yet it wasn’t quite enough. It was a valiant attempt and there can be regrets, but no real complaints.
Australia scorers: E Betts 9 (0-2-3), L Shuey 7 (0-2-1), D Zorko 7 (0-2-1), R Sloane 6 (0-2-0), C Wingard 6 (0-2-0), Z Merrett 5 (0-1-2), B Brown 4 (0-1-1), N Fyfe 3 (0-1-0), S Burgoyne 3 (0-1-0), R Laird 3 (0-1-0)
Ireland scorers: C McManus 16 (0-5-1), G Brennan 7 (1-0-1), C Barrett 6 (1-0-0), M Murphy 6 (0-1-0), S Walsh 6 (0-1-3), N Grimley 3 (0-1-0), C Sheehan 3 (0-1-0), N Murphy 1 (0-0-1), P Murphy 1 (0-0-1)
Australia: B Goddard; S Burgoyne, R Tarrant, J Gunston; K Simpson, R Laird, L Shuey; P Dangerfield, D Zorko; M Hibberd, N Fyfe, R Sloane; E Betts, B Brown, C Wingard
Interchanges: T Boak, Z Merrett, N Jetta, J Selwood
Ireland: N Morgan; B Harrison, E Cadogan, S Powter; C Barrett, Z Tuohy, C Sheehan; K Feely, A O’Shea; N Sludden, D Hughes, S Walsh; C McManus, M Murphy, P Geaney
Interchanges: G Brennan, N Murphy, K Clarke, C Sweeney, P Crowley, N Grimley, P Murphy, E Smith
Unused: K O’Connell
Referees: M Stevic (Aus), M Deegan (Ire)