I remember when the first series of International Rules Games took place and the interest that was generated among GAA supporters at the time. The novelty factor and the thought of being selected to represent your country plus the opportunity of a three week trip to Australia all added to the attraction of the trials and the games.
Players from all over Ireland travelled to Dublin and other venues to stake a claim for inclusion on the panel. For many players from less fashionable counties it was also an opportunity to rub shoulders with the household names of the GAA and a chance to show that there was plenty of talented footballers in counties other than Kerry, Dublin, Meath and Galway.
Since then of course the International series has gone through many changes and formats but it still struggles to appeal to Irish supporters in the same way that an All Ireland Final or a rugby international fixture might. On Saturday night last I sat down with a couple of friends to watch the game on TG4. I had been looking forward to seeing the best players in Ireland, plus some resident down under, showcase their talents against the cream of Aussie Rules.
What a disappointing spectacle it turned out to be. From the Champions League style parade onto the pitch and the poor timing of announcements right down to the amount of “soccer” style balls played by the combatants it turned out to be as poor an evening’s sport as I have watched in a long time. Most disappointing of all however was the inability of many of the Irish players to execute the basic skills of Gaelic Football. Passing and shooting in particular were poor especially when under no pressure and the lack of cohesion among the players meant the Australians higher fitness and intensity levels ensured they held on for a win.
In spite of the similarities in the two games, this is a compromise too far in my view and one that I feel is a complete waste of money. There may be only seven points or so between the sides with the second “test” still to be played but I doubt if there will be a packed Croke Park this weekend rushing out to see the game. I honestly feel this experiment has run its course and it might be better to rethink the whole arrangement. I wonder just how many spectators actually paid in to watch the game last Saturday nigh in Limerick.
I know it is not all about money but in terms of value, worth, exposure or even entertainment if last weekend is the best that they can serve up this should be the last time an International Rules team from Australia plays in Ireland. As an experiment it just has not worked and while there will be many who will come out and support it, I honestly feel that the vast majority of GAA supporters across the world are fairly apathetic towards it.