A Past Half Century of Achievement, but. .. International Rules Future Doubts

* By Steve Alomes

The Footy Almanac has run some interesting pieces on International Rules and the latest uncertainties. # I write this piece as a believer in possibilities and as the historian of the story’s first three decades.


After 47 years, nearly half a century, ‘Kevin Dumb of Beaumaris ‘and ‘Crackers of Geelong’ have concluded, as they did from the start, that the International Rules series is a waste of times. KD of Beaumaris writes an annual silly short letter to the press concluding that it is all a ‘WOT’ – waste of time. That negative view is quite common.

It appeals to club chauvinists, and Aussie ones too, and now to some gentlemen of the press who only know how to run with the pack in time-honoured journo tradition – in case they miss the same story as everyone else.

Australia is a strange country, where relationships need to be nurtured and maintained, and historical memory only gets a guernsey in terms of clichéd national myth. When Alan Seymour wrote his pioneering plays in the 1960s he had never heard of Louis Esson and his Pioneer Players after World War I.

Sometimes, aside from going down the Strand, Viva Las Vegas and Hollywood Boulevard, Australians are not good at massaging and maintaining relationships over a distance. Historical memory (or its amnesiac absence), cultural gaps in the meeting of cultures and a failure to work at relationships at the official level means the big picture is forgotten.

‘Who cares?’ becomes the motto of the footy person – official, club president, some players and too many fans. That happens all the more when there is so much distance between Oz and Ireland – mentally more than the distance to global metropolises and glitter towns.

International Rules, a created game (like all modern sports) but criticised as a ‘hybrid game’, has nearly reached a half century of predominant success. However, a few bad moments and those dumb and myopic sceptics who can only see their own club and their own sport have engendered a climate of negativism, a cloud over the game and its future.

Two of the greatest sports on the planet in two former colonial countries, Ireland and Australia, lack an international dimension. Representing their country matters to many players – they love to play for Australia. At times, the game has been a great success.

It began with Harry Beitzel’s brave history with the Galahs who played Irish football against the counties in 1967, 1968 and 1970, including when the Mighty Men of Meath thrilled a crowd of over 30,000 at the MCG in March 1968. The ironic title, Galahs, for Ron Barassi’s team, which created something new while challenging popular negativism, would become even more appropriate. Creative innovation has long had its opposite – the ‘No-sayers’ of more recent times.

Of course, official history allows no pre-history. It even ignores the VFL sanctioned schoolboys teams, involving visionaries including the ‘Big H’, and Kevin Sheehan, in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Officially, International Rules began in 1984, in ‘space age football’, in Allen Aylett’s words, played before full houses at storied Croke Park, one of Europe’s biggest stadiums, and the historic home of Gaelic sports.

The intermittent series have often been challenged by sports negativism. The legendary Gaelic sports writer Paddy Downey called it ‘begrudgery’.

That happened at both ends. Critics complained that there were too many tackles, too few tackles, and conflicting understandings of the rules.

Despite initial success the other problem was the one that has always bedevilled European soccer – club vs country. While the players wanted to play – since most VFL/AFL players would never play in a Grand Final – their clubs did not want them to play.

Now in the 2000s, as footy has become more gladiatorial and non-stop, players have ‘clean-up’ (or more) operations in September and value their brief October-November holidays even more. Today, not all players can play or want to play.

The ‘WOT’ problem came in three forms:

One, it was declared a ‘WOT’ when John Todd’s Australian team of 1986 roughed up the Irish, repeated in 2005  when Chris Johnson lost it at Melbourne’s Docklands stadium. The Irish press at times believed that the Aussies wanted war, not sport.

In recent years, the series has been declared a ‘WOT’ because of good old Aussie sports chauvinism, the popular and erroneous view that it was like Australia playing cricket against Bangladesh or the Netherlands – we just win. In fact, for most of its history, the tightly-bonded travelling team wins, whether the Irish amateurs or the Australian professionals. Sceptics and chauvinists never let the facts get in the way of a good story.

Now, we come to ‘WOT’ three, October 2013. The Australian experiment with a small Indigenous team, with only one Buddy Franklin cameo in the two Test matches and no Paddy Ryder or the injured Adam Goodes, hasn’t worked. The Irish team, aided by Irish players with AFL experience, including Carlton’s Zac Tuohy, have even outmarked them. That has happened although the Gaelic game doesn’t have the mark. Australia has been comprehensively defeated in two matches, with an Irish aggregate score of 173 to the Aussies meagre 72. This weekend’s second Test at Croke Park became a thrashing, Ireland winning 116 to 37.

Along with other troubles, the result has been waning popularity, even more in Australia. However, when other sports have their international dimension (this week’s Rugby League World Cup, a new Socceroos coach), Australian Football also needs its international moment.

A future November series, with more available players, might demonstrate that the Aussies are themselves not a ‘WOT’ and this international sport’s half century will be celebrated with pride and vision, rather than begrudgery.


* Steve Alomes discusses the internationalisation of footy in Australian Football The People’s Game 1958-2058. His short history of the Australian Irish connection since 1967, and the cultural gaps between the Irish and the Australians, has been republished on worldfootynews.com as A Meeting of Cultures in an International World.


# At www.footyalmanac.com.au see also Rob Heath’s ‘Big H’s first pack of Galahs’ (October 25) and Sean Gorman’s ‘All-Indigenous teams should be seen on the world stage’ (October 20).







  1. Cat from the Country says

    Perhaps the action of the round ball confuses our players.
    Our oval ball is unpredictable. Players have no idea where it will eventually come to rest.
    The round ball only goes forward when it hits the ground. Players who only use a round ball can effevtively read where it will go and will be waiting. Our guys get left behind.
    This is not a reason to stop the International game.
    It becomes a challenge for the Aussies to relearn round ball behaviour.

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