By Kieran Rooney
SOME much needed credibility was restored to the International Rules series when Australia survived a late rally from Ireland in the second match in front of a crowd of 61,842 at Croke Park on Saturday night.
Remarkably, Ireland came close to staging a remarkable comeback when they established a four-point lead going into the last seven minutes. But the Australians regained their composure to win by 55 (0-14-13) to Ireland's 52 (1-11-13).
That gave Australia an aggregate series success of 102 to 92. And, as well as Ireland played in the final two quarters at Cork Park, there is absolutely no doubt that they deserved their victory.
The pity was that Ireland should take so long to really get to grips with matters. At one stage, they trailed Australia by 17 points but somehow managed to turn that around to the extent that they led 52-48 in the final quarter.
Astonishingly, they were now just three points behind on aggregate and in with a real chance of securing the series. But as the tension grew during those dramatic closing stages so did the Ireland error count.
Australia, by contrast, kept their composure and kicked the scores to give them a narrow 55-52 victory. Disappointing as it was for the Irish manager Anthony Tothill, he was entitled to feel much happier with his team's performance.
"I have to be proud of the players." he stressed. "They exhausted themselves late in the game and came up just short.
"We played some great football in the second half but it wasn't enough. We deserved something tonight but walked away with nothing. That's the way it goes."
Irish captain Steven McDonnell reflected the general view by bemoaning the fact that it took Ireland so long to get going. He said: "We put them under enormous pressure in the final quarter.
"The lads were exhausted but they still pressed forward. It was a great effort but not quite enough in the end. It's a pity that we didn't get more of that into our game earlier on."
Just about everyone in the big Croke Park Park would have agreed. At least though they saw a contest which suggested that the international rules concept is worth retaining.
The fact that such a big crowd should turn up a Croke Park after such a dull opening match shows that there is plenty of interest. The difficulty was that Ireland continuted to struggle against the AFL player's superior skills during the first half of Saturday's encounter.
At half-time, the visitors were 28-17 clear and coasting. When they extended their advantage to 17 points in the third quarter, Ireland looked set for an embarrassing defeat.
Fortunately, Anthony Tohill's team finally got their act together. James Kavanagh's goal, counting for six points, provided the impetus, and, for a time, Ireland actually outscored Australia 14-0 in the final quarter.
Colm Begley from Laois was outstanding, while Kevin McKernan, James Kavanagh, Benny Coulter, Tommy Walsh, Michael Murphy and Bernard Brogan all had their moments. Begley was voted Ireland's man of the series, with McKernan being named as the Irish rookie of the series.
As close as Ireland came, however, there is still considerable room for improvement before the teams meet again next year in Australia. Most disappointingly, their kicking accuracy was surprisingly poor at times.
Australian manager Mick Malthouse, who had been very critical of the negativity of the Irish media during the week, left Croke Park in a much better mood. "We always expected that Ireland would come back at us and we did very well to hold on," he explained.
Seemingly, Malthouse's one disappointment is that the series will not happen every year. "Our players would welcome that and when you get a crowd in excess of 60,000, it shows that the public would love it too."
PHOTO BY INPHO
Corbett's club are top in Tipp
A great year got even better for Lar Corbett when he helped Thurles Sarsfields defeat Clonoulty-Rossmore by 1-16 to 17 in the Tipperary Senior Hurling final at Semple Stadium.
Corbett's 45th minute goal was crucial. It opened a nine-point gap and Thurles Sarsfields went on to secure a comfortable success.
In the Galway hurling decider, Clarinbridge and Loughrea will have to meet again after drawing 2-11 to 1-14 at Salthill. Loughrea produced a marvellous comeback to take the lead with a last minute penalty from Jonny Coen only for Mark Kerins came up with an equalizing free for Clarinbridge in injury time.
There was no such drama in the Dublin hurling final which saw Ballyboden-St Enda's cruise past St Vincent's by 3-17 to 1-10.
Kilkenny's O'Loughlin-Gaels overpowered Rathdowney-Errill 3-16 to 0-14 in the Leinster Club SHC quarter-finals. Others through to the last eight are Kilmallock, successful by 2-11 to 0-14 against Crusheen, and, the surprise packets Raharney.
The Westmeath outsiders overcame Offaly champions Coolderry 0-17 to 0-14. In the Ulster Club SFC quarter-finals, Crossmaglen made a major statement by beating the defending champions St Gall's 1-12 to 0-9.
The man who did most of the damage was Oisin McConville. He contributed 1-6 as Crossmaglen gave a performance which indicates that they may well go on to add to their four previous All-Ireland titles.
Munster beat Ulster, Leinster best Edinburgh
ON the rugby front, Munster and Leinster showed that they have some real strength in depth by recording Magners League victories.
Deprived of their international squad members because of Ireland's upcoming international matches, the Irish provinces had to bring in many of their lesser known younger talent.
Yet, Leinster overcame Edinburgh 19-18 at the RDS, while Munster traveled to Ravenhill to beat Ulster 16-6. Admittedly, Ulster were also hit by the absence of some top performers, but this was still a very worthwhile victory for Munster.
The ever reliable Paul Warwick landed three penalties and converted a late try from the promising young centre Ivan Dineen. Ian Nagle, another up and coming player from Cork Constitution, was named Man of the Match for his performance in the second-row.
For Leinster, New Zealander Isa Nacewa and South African Richardt Schmidt made big contributions at the RDS. Nacewa contributed 14 points with his boot, while the only try came from the highly rated Blackrock College wing Andrew Conway.
Unfortunately, Connacht found Benetton Treviso just too strong for them in Treviso. The Italians 24-17 victory means Connacht are now third from bottom.
Munster continue to lead the way, four points clear of Llanelli Scarlets. Ulster, despite their defeat, stay in fourth spot, while Leinster have moved up to fifth.