International Rules Test: Ireland 46 (2-9-7) Australia 56 (0-17-5)
By Brian Murphy, Perth
Ireland lost an International Rules Test for the first time since 2010 in Perth on Saturday night, where a 38,262 strong crowd at Patersons Stadium were treated to an entertaining game of hybrid football.
Australia deservedly reclaimed the Cormac McAnallen Cup with a performance of real class, but had Ireland turned up in the first half it could have been an entirely different outcome. Paul Earley’s charges were strangely off-colour in the first two quarters and they trailed by 35-7 at the half-time mark.
Ireland v Australia as it happened
"Australia were incredibly accurate in the first quarter - I think they had nine shots at goal and hit seven overs. We were uncharacteristically wild with our kicking and we didn't hit our targets up front which we had worked on all week," Earley said in the post-match press conference. "Outside of that first quarter we won the game. We changed it in the second half, pushed up and went man to man, changed our system and were much more competitive."
Ireland were 22-1 down before they kicked their first over of the game when captain Michael Murphy took a mark and scored himself just before the first quarter hooter. It was the Australians who looked more comfortable with the round ball, working it through the hands superbly to kick a string of quality overs, with the hugely impressive Steve Johnson hitting three fine scores.
Australia's accuracy was a joy to behold and there was a real danger at the that point that the game would turn into a rout. Nick Riewoldt added two more kicks in the second quarter and the gap was out to 28 at half-time.
To their credit, Ireland were a different animal in the second half and put the Aussies under intense pressure, dominating the midfield and forcing a very different game of football. A Darren Hughes goal six minutes into the second half, reducing the gap to 41-14, ignited the the visitors' challenge and they had the gap back to 16 by the end of the third quarter, with Ulster men Conor McManus, who finished with four overs and as Ireland’s man of the match, his Monaghan team-mate Hughes, and Mattie Donnelly leading the way with some superb scores.
Ireland hit 18 points (1-4) without reply in a super burst of fire in the third quarter, McManus adding two overs shortly after Hughes slotted a low shot past 39-year-old Dustin Fletcher following a neat move, while Kevin McKernan lofted a fine shot over the bar from a tough angle. Australia led by 46-30 at the three-quarter mark and with so much momentum behind them, there was a real sense within the huge Irish crowd in the stadium, that a comeback was on.
The gap was down to 13 when Colm Begley snatched another over, but Australia hit back with scores from Kieran Jack and the superb Chad Wingard.
Ireland snatched a second six-point goal four minutes from the end, Nick Smith smashing the ball into his own net after Michael Murphy had forced a fine save from Australian goalkeeper Fletcher, who had a fine game on his seventh International Rules appearance. McManus sent over his fourth score soon after and the gap was back to 10, but Ireland ran out of road in the end and the home side held on to win an enjoyable contest.
The overwhelming feeling after - disappointment aside - was that it was an excellent game and it was just a pity that there isn't a second Test to look forward to in a week's time. With a sell-out crowd, a keen contest played in a great spirit, and with the players on both sides seemingly treasuring the chance to play for their country, it looks like a concept the GAA and the AFL will fight hard to keep alive.
Scorers for Ireland: C McManus 12 (0-3-0), D Hughes 7 (1-0-1), Nick Smith 6 (Own Goal), M Donnelly 6 (0-2-0), M Murphy 3 (0-1-0), K McKernan 3 (0-1-0), C Begley 3 (0-1-0), S Cavanagh 2 (0-0-2), C O’Neill 1 (0-0-1), P Hanley 1 (0-0-1), R Munnelly 1 (0-0-1), D Moran 1 (0-0-1).
Scorers for Australia: S Johnson 12 (0-4-0), N Riewoldt, 10 (0-3-1) C Wingard 9 (0-3-0), J McVeigh 6 (0-2-0), R Gray 5 (0-1-2), Luke Breust 4 (0-1-1), J Selwood 3 (0-1-0), B Harvey 3 (0-1-0), L Hodge 3 (0-1-0), B Smith 1 (0-0-1).
Ireland: Paddy O’Rourke; Neil McGee, Finian Hanley, Ciaran McDonald; Chrissy McKaigue, James McCarthy, Lee Keegan; David Moran, Pearce Hanley; Seán Cavanagh, Michael Murphy, Colm Begley; Colm O'Neill, Aidan O'Shea, Conor McManus.
Interchange: Colm Boyle, Cathal Cregg, Mattie Donnelly, Darren Hughes, Kevin McKernan, Kevin McLoughlin, Ross Munnelly, Aidan Walsh.
Australia: Dustin Fletcher; Nick Smith, Harry Taylor, Sam Mitchell; Jarrad McVeigh, Luke Hodge, Kieran Jack; Jobe Watson, Joel Selwood; Robbie Gray, Steve Johnson, Brent Harvey; Luke Breust, Nic Naitanui, Chad Wingard.
Interchange: Travis Boak, Birchall, Brendon Goddard, Leigh Montagna, Nick Riewoldt, Patrick Dangerfield, Brodie Smith, Tom Rockliff.
Referees: Simon Meredith (Australia), Marty Duffy (Ireland).
Jim Stynes Medal: Luke Hodge
GAA Medal: Conor McManus