Ireland Correspondent: Clouds gather over future of Ireland-Australia hybrid series

By Peter Lenaghan

Ireland’s weather bureau has confirmed that last month was the wettest July on record for the Dublin area. Day after day, and often several times a day, clouds rolled in across the country from the Atlantic Ocean and rain tumbled down in short, sharp bursts. About 150 millimetres of precipitation sent those yearning for a summer of sunshine scurrying for cover.
Last week a storm cloud of a different kind gathered over Irish sport and dampened spirits further. The AFL announced that the International Rules series scheduled for October between Ireland’s amateur Gaelic footballers and Australia’s professionals was being postponed for 12 months. Given the reaction to the news in the Irish press, you could be forgiven for believing that, along with the rain, the sky was falling, too.

The AFL’s chief executive, Andrew Demetriou, offered up the world’s financial doldrums as the reason for Australia’s non-attendance. “The current global situation has severely impacted on the sponsorship and support opportunities available for sporting organisations around the world and we needed to make a responsible decision and wait for 12 months,” Demetriou said.
Even though the postponement is another controversial episode in the fraught relationship between AFL and the Gaelic Athletic Association, the GAA managed to respond diplomatically. The association’s president, Christy Cooney, said that he had hoped the series would be played as scheduled and that the GAA had been ready to announce its own sponsorship and media deals. Cooney said the postponement was a huge disappointment, but that the AFL had guaranteed that Australia’s footballers would tour Ireland in October next year.

The response in the Irish press was far less even-tempered, with views on the AFL’s motives ranging from suspicion to outright contempt. “AFL DUPLICITY SHOULD MARK SERIES’ DEATH” thundered the Irish Independent’s headline. The paper’s columnist, Martin Breheny, described the AFL’s announcement as “an insult to intelligence, Ireland and the GAA” and accused the Australian body of not being able to work in partnership with Irish authorities. “As far as [the AFL is] concerned it’s a one-way street, with both sides controlled by them,” Breheny wrote. “That can’t be tolerated any more. G’day mates, you’ve blown it.”

In a separate story, the Independent quoted “industry sources” who believed the tour would have cost the AFL about A$500,000. Cliona Foley reported, “[If] finance is the reason for the Aussies’ no-show, then, considering the gloomy world economic forecasts, the chances of next year’s internationals going ahead are slim and leave the future of the series in serious doubt.”
Over at the Irish Times, Ian O’Riordan also wrote that the future of International Rules was bleak because it was feared that the series would be cancelled in the long term. He reported that changes to the way the financial spoils from International Rules were shared meant the host nation now gets all of the revenue generated. O’Riordan said it appeared this was a factor in the AFL’s decision.

How much of this is false outrage and overblown reaction is hard to ascertain. The AFL’s decision has created some clear problems in Ireland and International Rules is important to the country, especially in an economic sense. The Irish Times reported that the potential death of the series could cost the GAA about €1 million every two years. The postponement’s effect is being keenly felt in south-west Ireland. Limerick was due to host one of this October’s matches and a major upgrade of the city’s GAA stadium is being completed. The International Rules test was to be the grand unveiling. The local GAA secretary, Mike O’Riordan, told the Irish Examiner newspaper the postponement was “bitterly disappointing” and that a festival being planned to take place in conjunction with the match was now highly unlikely to go ahead. The Limerick Chamber of Commerce reportedly estimated the match would have injected €10 million into the local economy. The postponement is also embarrassing for the GAA because the matches were to be a major part of the association’s 125th birthday celebrations. Ireland’s Aussie Rules competition was hoping the series would help generate interest in the sport and boost participation.

To provide a little balance to the press coverage, the Irish Times drafted in its former employee, and now a co-editor of the Footy Almanac, Paul Daffey. The real cause of the postponement, he reasoned, was that the AFL was currently more interested in its bid to “see off” Australia’s rival football codes than overseas expansion. Daffey also rubbished the AFL’s financial excuse, writing, “Tadhg Kennelly is more likely to become the next Pope (bless him) than the AFL is likely to face a funding shortfall in the next 12 months.”

My own view is that the series, which has its origins in matches played in the 1960s, has suffered from trying to be more than what it is – an exhibition tournament that mashes together two similar games. International Rules takes away some of the Gaelic game’s best elements, especially the continuous flow of play, which is interrupted by the ‘mark’ rule. The AFL’s stars struggle with the problems posed by an unfamiliar, round ball. Despite the matches being fiercely contested – sometimes a little too fiercely, particularly in Chris Johnson’s case in 2005 – attempts to promote the series as a serious battle for supremacy sound forced and hollow. What has been notable is the lack of any strong push for the series to go ahead for purely sporting reasons. International Rules seems to exist only as a curiosity and money maker.

If the revenue and public interest generated by the series is falling, then maybe International Rules is an indulgence and distraction that neither country can afford at the moment. Maybe the AFL had just seen the Irish weather reports.

GAA ALL-IRELAND FOOTBALL SEMI FINALS

August 23 – Tyrone v Cork
August 30 – Kerry* v Mayo/Meath

* Kerry has gone from ageing, slow, muddled, toothless and hopeless to All-Ireland contender in the space of an afternoon. The Kingdom humiliated Dublin in the quarter-final played between the counties on Monday at Croke Park. Colm ‘The Gooch’ Cooper scored a goal inside the first minute and the contest was over before half-time. Darragh O Se ruled the midfield like a footballing King. Tadhg Kennelly came off the bench to join in the party. The final margin was 17 points. This was meant to be the year Dublin fulfilled its potential, but the Dubs had their pants pulled down. Kerry is just one very winnable match away from its sixth All-Ireland final in a row.

Comments

  1. uncle tony says:

    Pete
    I thought the game had really suffered at the hands of one “bully boy” Sheedy and his bunch of smasho brave boys including that o’so tough guy from Brisbane.As Spider said of them when he played’none of them would have the guts to try that on in an AFL game as they all sleep with the lights on.It is a pity as the game has potential and has had (from your accounts an influence on the irish game.Is theire a ‘saints ” in the Irish comp or are they all saints

  2. Good riddance.
    A poor hybrid that outlaws some of the best parts of both games.
    End of another junket…they’ll find another.

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