By John Fogarty
Illness, high temperatures and the threat of Australian aggressiveness could stand in the way of Ireland continuing their 100% International Rules record in Adelaide tomorrow – but captain Aidan O’Shea won’t be making any excuses.
According to manager Joe Kernan, only one of Pearce Hanley, Niall Murphy and Enda Smith has yet to show signs of improvement but it’s very much a case of getting on with the show for the Armagh man and Mayo star O’Shea.
“For me, personally, I’ve been okay but obviously it has been a concern inside the squad,” acknowledged the 27-year-old. “We’ve been struck down with a few guys and it’s not ideal when you’re travelling and obviously only have 23 players and players are down with sickness. It hasn’t been ideal preparation.
“Obviously, there’s another 24 hours to go before we start and hopefully the boys will be able to participate if not fully then in some capacity. Look, it is what it is and we just have to deal with it.”
The Australians believe the familiarity with hot weather should also count in their favour – thermometers should hit 33 or 34 degrees Celsius at the Adelaide Oval tomorrow afternoon (3.40pm throw-in, 5.10am Irish time).
Speaking at the pre-test press conference, O’Shea remarked: “We’re not going to be using as an excuse tomorrow. We were out in the heat yesterday. Maybe it’s going to be an advantage to the Aussies. If they feel it’s going to be an advantage to them then that’s fine but we won’t be holding any hope on whether the weather is warm or not having an impact getting a result in the game.”
At 6ft 3in and approximately 95kg, O’Shea wouldn’t appear to be daunted by the Australians’ talk of exerting their supposed physical advantage on Ireland. “We were at dinner with them last night and there’s no real significant difference between both sides from a physical conditioning point of view.
“They’re professional athletes but we match up pretty well. We’ve got some big boys around the middle and some good runners, good speed, and we’ve got some great scorers. I’m not really concerned if they want to bring it physically – we have the ability to handle that.
“If that’s the route they want to go then that’s fine but we’ll be making sure we’re as proficient in the skills of our game for as long as possible in the game to really punish them on the scoreboard.”
Australia coach Chris Scott insisted his team would be playing in the right spirit. “One hundred per cent. You can be physical and stay within the rules and physicality is a part of our sport and your sport. Done rightly, I can’t see a problem.
“In terms of overall physicality, we think the game stands up and doesn’t require over-physicality to make it a good spectacle for the fans. We think we have an obligation to play the game in the right spirit so this series can not only continue but thrive.”
O’Shea said Ireland will aim to catch Australia out on the break. “If you look back to two years ago in Dublin they play a really high press game. They’ll push (Brendon) Goddard out from goal and use him as an extra defender and try and press our kick-outs really high and try and spring their attacks from there.
“It would be ideal for us to try and win the ball and put pressure on their defence early so they can’t cover back in numbers. We got success in that two years ago and I expect that’s how they’ll approach it again and it’s up to us to try and get the ball out of the busy areas and try and punish them high up the field.”
The return of the two-test series is something O’Shea wholeheartedly endorses with a close to sold-out second test in Perth to come this day week. “Even the fact that when you put your hand up to play for Ireland, people will be looking at the game on TV tomorrow and saying that boys are making mistakes but it does take time to get used to this game. It’s not the same as Gaelic football and I’ll be stressing that to the new boys in the next 24 hours. You’re not just going to roll into the game and things will come easy to you.
“The fact that you have them two games maybe gives you the chance to learn the game in a proper environment, not in a trial game situation against a highly competitive game. The two-test series should really show who comes out on top.”