I very nearly put pen to paper a week ago to vent my disgust at the Australian International Rules team. I’m not going to let the second consecutive Friday night pass.
I’m a big believer in the concept. I went to a great Test at the WACA as a kid, and had a terrific day when the Aussies stole the points at Croke Park in 2002. The MCG clash in 2003 was another beauty, and I was privileged to be one of the 60,000 in attendance that night. At that time, stars like Pavlich, Crawford, Judd & Wirrpanda ran around in the Australian jumper.
Not only does International Rules have an important role for showcasing our game to others, but it is a great spectacle. Whilst not a contest at any stage, last week’s 1st Test at Docklands appealed just through the fast movement of the ball and the frequent scoring (a soccer fan would’ve hated it). And I found myself absolutely marvelling at the Irish side’s skills.
Whilst the sport is right, unfortunately our nation is an embarrassing disgrace at it. Not only that, but over the course of the 2 Tests, we demonstrated that we can be 2 different kinds of disgraces.
In the 1st Test, it was simply a case of a case of being pathetic. Unskilled, slack, slow, uncompetitive. We deserved to lose by 100, and if every shot between the big sticks was worth 6 points, we nearly would have.
This shouldn’t really be any real wonder. It wasn’t even a C-grade side – it was as though we had hand-picked the weakest players from all AFL lists. James Kelly and Andrew Swallow were the only players in the squad who might rank amongst the league’s top 50 players; Bernie Vince and Stephen Milne the only others who might rank in the top 100. An abundance of Melbourne and Richmond players, and Port, Adelaide and Gold Coast all well represented.
The message from that Test was clear: the AFL clubs are out to kill International Rules in the same way that they killed State of Origin. As with a host of other issues (eg. Grand Final ticket scalping), the clubs have too much power, and are happy to hold the sport’s greater good to ransom for their own sense of being the centre of the universe. The AFL needs to grow a pair and declare that all players need to be available for selection, and anyone who refuses is suspended for Round 1.
To the 2nd Test, and we have a different kind of national embarrassment. Our national representatives spent the night alternating between being thugs and sooks. After saying all week that they would get physical and aggressive, they showed that their idea of doing so was to go for cheap-shots, hitting their opponents from behind and after they’d disposed of the ball. And when that didn’t work, they whinged to the umpires – they could give out the cheap-shots but not take their opponents’ retribution, the worst kind of cowards.
If the very ordinarily playing squad wasn’t enough, there was very ordinary leadership. Captain Brad Green epitomised the oscillation between thuggery and sooking. Some long-haired bloke called Wood (who I’ve never heard of, don’t even know which club he plays for) dutifully followed his leader. Frawley took to following his club skipper’s lead in sooking. Callan Ward ran into an Irish opponent and staged for a free (and had his opponent sent off as a result), before moments later crashing into the back of a prone opponent. Really courageous stuff.
Every time I watch an event like the Rugby World Cup, I can’t help but think of the pity of our sport – that Australia has all this great athletic talent that the rest of the world never gets to see. From the bunch of unskilled, hapless cowards that have represented our country over the last fortnight, it would seem that the world hasn’t been missing out on much at all.
I still think the AFL needs to get serious and threaten suspension for our top players (eg. All-Australians) who opt out of this series. But perhaps they also need to impose a blanket 1-week suspension on the blokes who did play this time as well.