By Kieran Rooney
IRELAND remain in contention in the International Rules Series against Australia - just. The two match series looked over as a contest when they trailed Australia 47-29 at the Limerick Gaelic Grounds with just five minutes remaining.
But a typical surging run and shot from Dublin's Bernard Brogan brought them back into the series, which will be decided by the aggregate scores of the two games. Brogan's goal counted for six points, and combined with further scores from Kevin McKernan, Steven McDonnell and Tommy Walsh, provided Ireland with some sort of chance for the second match at Croke Park on Saturday night.
Australia finished winners by 47 (0-14-5) to Ireland's 40 (1-8-10). Thankfully, from Ireland's point of view, the Aussies were unable to manage a goal in an encounter they dominated for long periods.
Had they done so, Ireland would surely have no chance in the second leg. But, even as things stand, Australia will be firm favourites to capture the Cormac McAnallen Cup.
All the talk during the build-up was how were they going to cope with the round ball. Yet, despite the fact that they only had a few weeks to adapt they looked quite at home with the shape of the ball and the slippery conditions which prevailed at the Gaelic Stadium.
Apart from the late burst, Anthony Tohill's Ireland team never got to grips with their opponents. Tohill was at a bit of a loss to understand what happened.
"Lads don't try to make mistakes, but we seemed to be very nervous in possession." he reflected. "There was a fair bit of pressure out there.
"Australia just seemed to outnumber us in a lot of the contests. They defended together and attacked together. Crucially, they also took their opportunities better.
"Hopefully, Bernard Brogan's goal might have saved the series. "If we hadn't got it we were in a bad position.
"The goal brought us into it and the crowd into it. We must build on that for next Saturday's match at Croke Park."
By contrast, Australia had very few complaints. In what was rather a tame game which included none of the rough play which has marred previous encounters, they looked virtually untroubled until conceding those late scores.
But even that didn't seem to bother them. Coach Mick Malthouse could have had a bit of a moan but chose instead to concentrate on how well his team had played, describing it as "a terrific win."
He also stressed the importance of their runaway midweek warm-up victory over a combined Cork Colleges side. Worringly, Dane Swan, one of Australia's top performers, suggested that his team will improve for the Croke Park encounter.
"We are going to get better." he warned. "This will be our third game and there is definite room for improvement."
The obvious conclusion then is that Ireland could be in for a torrid time at Croke Park, unless they show a massive improvement. Then again, strange things can and very often do happen in sport.
Ballitubber are Mayo champs
BALLINTUBBER secured their first ever Mayo Senior Football title by beating Castlebar Mitchels 0-8 to 0-5 at McHale Park on Sunday.
The only disappointment was that it was such a poor final. Still, Ballintubber, under the management of James Horan, deserve great credit for making the break though in their centenary year.
Elsewhere, Nemo Rangers won the Cork SFC title, defeating St Finbarr's 2-10 to 1-8 at Pairc Ui Chaoimh. The key score came from Nemo's Barry O'Driscoll after a brilliant move mid way through the second half.
Coalisland have ended a 20 year wait to win the Tyrone SFC title. They beat Carrickmore 0-9 to 0-7 at Healy Park.
In hurling, O'Loughlin Gaels got the better of Carrickshock by 0-17 to 1-11 to capture their third Kilkkenny SHC title. It was some compensation for Kilkenny stars Martin Comerford and Brian Hogan.
De La Salle won the Waterford Senior Hurling Championship follwing a comprehensive 3-13 to 1-11 victory over the defending champions Ballygunner. John Mullane, with nine points, was scorer in chief.
The preliminary round of the Leinster SFC, brought victories for Portlaoise, Skryne and Garrycastle. Portlaoise accounted for Moorefield 2-11 to 0-14, Skryne beat Rathnew 1-11 to 1-8, while Garrycastle got the better of Longford Slashers 0-13 to 1-9.
Trio are back for tests
STEPHEN FERRIS, Denis Leamy and Sean O'Brien are all back in the Irish rugby squad for the autumn tests against South Africa, Samoa, New Zealand and Argentina after missing the summer tour through injury.
For the most part, coach Declan Kidney's 34-man squad is on expected lines, although Geordan Murphy, Shane Jennings, Luke Fitzgerald and Jerry Flannery have not been included. Both Fitzgerald and Flannery are nursing injuries.
As Fitzgerald's problem is not thought to be at all serious, he is expected to be added to the squad, but there is more concern about Flannery's calf injury. Long term injuries have ruled out Paul O'Connell and Tomas O'Leary, while Leo Cullen wasn't considered because be has only just returned to action.
Meanwhile Munster stay top of the Magners League table following a comprehensive 39-13 bonus point success over Benetton Treviso at Thomond Park.
James Coughlan, Damien Varley, David Wallace, Mick Sherry and Keith Earls contributed the five tries, while the remainder of the points came from Ronan O'Gara's boot.
In truth, Munster hardly had to move out of second gear against an understrength Treviso team. Leinster, by contrast, experienced a much tougher time when they took on Connact at the Sportground in Galway.
They eventually won 18-6 but the final scoreline did Connacht no favours. In fact, they only trailed 11-6 until injury time.
Instead of settling for a losing bonus point, they gambled and tried to open up play in their own half. Unfortunately, scrum-half Frank Murphy saw his pass intercepted by Dominic Ryan who ran in for Leinster's second try.
To finish with nothing was hard for Connacht coach Eric Elwood to take. Prior to Ryan's late try, Connacht had looked quite capable of restricting Leinster to just one try from wing Isa Nacewa and two penalties by Jonathan Sexton.
Leinster were, most definitely, not at their best. Still, coach Joe Schmidt was reasonably pleased, pointing out that Connacht are difficult opponents.
He said: "I think we deserved our win and I liked the way we kept our composure towards the end of the game. But I do also feel that Connacht were unlucky not to get that losing bonus point."
Ulster went down 21-16 to Edinburgh in a match played in diffuclt wet conditions at Murrayfield. Ulster could only mange one try through Ian Whitten and have now dropped to fith in the table.
PHOTO BY INPHO