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Earley: Australia must play their best players

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Paul Earley was back in Croke Park on Monday for the publication of the second report of the Football Review Committee, of which he is a member.

I think for the series to continue it needs Australia to make a commitment to play their best players
Paul Earley

Just over six weeks earlier he was on the sideline at the famous stadium in a very different guise, watching his Irish side record a huge 116-37 victory over Australia in the Second Test of the International Rules Series.

That win wrapped up a 173-72 aggregate victory over the AFL Indigenous side, and with a winning margin of 101 points, it was the most comprehensive victory by any side in the history of the series.

However, while the level of performance and attitude of the Irish squad was widely acclaimed, the poor performance of the Australians lead to questions over their decision not to send their strongest possible team to take part in the series.

Proposal 13 in the FRC's second report states: "We recommend that the International Rules series should be continued, providing both parties commit to putting out their strongest possible representatives."

The specific mention of the International Rules in the report, and the reference to the teams committing to "putting out their strongest possible representatives", should add to the discussion currently ongoing about the future of the series.

"I was feeling very proud obviously and very satisfied with the approach that the Irish team took and the performance," Paul Earley told GAA.ie on Monday about how he felt after Ireland's victory.

"We can't control what the Australians do but the whole premise behind this is that both sides put out their best team or as close to their best players as possible. That's what you want, that's what we want - to play against the best.

"Unfortunately, Australia didn't have that. They made a decision this year to play an Indigenous team. I think for the series to continue it needs Australia to make a commitment to play their best players. In the past when they did, the games were terrific games and very competitive.

"Our players want to continue this. The commitment and the attitude of the players this year certainly reflected that so from that perspective, if both sides and particularly the Australians put out their strongest team, we're certainly in favour of continuing."

Earley has strong AFL connections of his own, dating back to his time playing the game in Melbourne, and he has his own opinions as to why interest in the International Rules series may have waned on the Australian side.

"Perhaps the club season and the club control over the players has increased over the last number of years as well over there," he said.

"That means that at the end of the season, a lot of the players, ok they have a seven or eight week mandatory break, but a lot of them have injuries, they want to go away, they want to get married, they want to go on holidays, and maybe there isn't the commitment that there was previously.

"But I spoke to a lot of the former players who were involved on the tour this time, like Andrew McLeod who played 350 games for Adelaide and played for Australia a few times. He's only finished playing a couple of years.

"He said it was a massive, massive honour for him to play for Australia. He thinks that if the AFL talk to the players and talk to the clubs that there certainly will be an appetite for it. But I think a lot of it is around the clubs taking a bit more control of the players and some of them not wanting to play."

While the references to the International Rules in the FRC's report is of particular interest to Earley, he has been heavily involved with all of the committee's work over the last two years.

There are a number of potentially ground-breaking proposals in the FRC's report, with perhaps the most significant being the possibility of the provincial championships being tweaked to have eight teams in each.

As well as that there are major proposals on club fixture scheduling, possible changes to the All-Ireland Club Championship semi-final and final dates and a reduction in the age for minor from U18 to U17.

While a number of proposals from the last FRC report, most notably the black card, eventually made it onto the motions at Congress and were passed, Earley says it is difficult to tell what chances the latest proposals have to someday becoming a reality.

"It's very hard with this one," he said. "These are going to get a lot of debate over the next number of weeks and it's up to the GAA to decide. A lot of those proposals can be converted into motions, there's no doubt about that. When that will happen, I'm not sure. It depends...

"But I certainly hope, given the work that has gone into it and the feedback from the people that we've spoken to, this reflects the views of the majority of the people we've spoken to.

"Last year when we went to Congress and some of the rule changes were implemented, a lot of it was because of the power of the people who supported them and the fact that it was the majority of the GAA and football public that wanted these changes. I think that's one of the reasons why they went through and hopefully these will be regarded and viewed in the same light, and I certainly hope that a few of them get through."

Interview by Arthur Sullivan




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