WHAT’S THE POINT OF THE INTERNATIONAL RULES SERIES?

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By any stretch of the imagination the 11th of November is a big day in Irish sport. At 5.30 in the evening, in Rugby, the international side is facing up to the might of the Springboks of South Africa, in what is sure to be a sell out fixture in the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. After that game, at 7.45 at night, in soccer, the national team travels to Copenhagen in the first leg of a playoff, hoping to qualify for their first World Cup in 16 years, since the infamous South Korea/Japan tournament of 2002.

If you have been willing to sit through those 2 events, you may be able to get yourselves up (or keep yourselves up) until 5.10 that morning, when you can tune into the action from the Adelaide Oval in Australia where Ireland are facing off in the first game of the international rules series. Oh, I’m sorry, you forgot that was on, didn’t you? Well, I’m not surprised.

As a general sports fan (and I assume most of our readers are) I beg the question, which of those 3 games are you most interested in. The soccer probably. It is a big game, and it’s most likely to get the highest viewership figures. Maybe a few will choose the rugby. And the International Rules? I doubt many hands will be raised for that one. Now what about those of you who have no interest in Rugby or Soccer. Are you still interested in the international rules? Well, I thought not.

If you aren’t particularly enthusiastic about the prospect of the game though, then you’re not the only one. During the week it was announced that none of the All-Ireland winning Dublin squad from this year are making themselves available for it. Not one. Reasons of varying credibility levels were given, from the fact that they were either involved in the club championship, carrying an injury, or simply needed a rest after a long season. Reading in between the lines, in summary, no Dublin player could be arsed playing in the series. So if not one member of the best Gaelic football team in Ireland, can be bothered about representing their country, supposedly the “highest honour you can receive in the game”, then why should we be?

As for myself, I have been a spectator at just one International Rules game in my lifetime. The second test in 2004. It was a memorable occasion for a number of reasons. Number one, because a fight broke out before the throw in. Then in the early stages of the game, the notoriously lax Croke Park security team allowed a stray dog onto the pitch. Not only did the dog get a couple of minutes notoriety at the start, he made such an impression that he wasn’t taken away until the end of the first period. He even managed to get himself involved in the action on a few occasions! Just take a look at the YouTube footage.

The third most memorable part of the day was at half time when that lovable rogue/tuneless idiot (delete as appropriate) Brush Shiels made his way onto the field to provide some “entertainment” for the masses during the break. The names of which songs he performed escapes me now, but I vividly recall the Bould Brush running around the field for a number of minutes and exhorting the attended masses with the question “Is this the best day of your lives?” Suffice to say, it wasn’t.

As for the game itself, well, Ireland won it convincingly but no one really cared about that. Hell, I’m not even sure the Australian players cared about it! In fact after a long and grueling domestic season at home, the last thing they probably wanted to do was to travel the whole way across the world, to play a couple of exhibition games that nobody at home was going to give them any credit for. The good news from that trip though was that, to the best of my knowledge, no Australian player got arrested from it. That’s in contrast to 2006 when the notorious Brendan Favola was banged up for a while in Galway, for assaulting a barman who wasn’t giving him any more drink on a night out.

At the very least though they could console themselves with the fact that they got a nice holiday out of it. In fact, that’s probably the only incentive for players to travel across the world to play in this type of fixture. In an interview a few years ago, Kerry’s Paul Galvin said as much. So that’s something for Joe Kernan’s squad to look forward to over the next few weeks. They’ll get some of the beach weather that’s been so lacking at home. And you can be sure that if the Irish players do manage to dip into the water at any stage, the “hilarious” incongruous sight of their milk white bodies in the water, will get a lot of mileage in the media.

I mean, the fact that the series takes place at all seems a bizarre contradiction, seeing as we’ve spent the last few years bemoaning that all these Australian talent scouts are coming over to our country and trying to take our best young football prospects. Ex Kerry teammates Tomas O Se and Tadhg Kennelly have even fallen out over it. So if the Australian rules association is such a nefarious force, that we need to keep away from our game, why then are we going over to play them? Is that not making our game and players more recognizable/likely to be snapped up by Australian sides? It’s a simple question, either we are against this organization (the AFL) or we aren’t. But in typical GAA style, any opposition can be welcomed, so long as we can make a few bob from them.

How much bob we can make from them though remains to be seen. The fact is, the audience for these games have been steadily dwindling over the last number of years. In 2006 a record crowd of 82, 217 turned up to see the game in Croke Park to see the likes of Meath’s Graham Geraghty being assaulted by some, hmmm, “robust” challenges.

But since then public interest has lessened somewhat. Four years ago the series was taken to Breffni Park in Cavan and only 17,000 showed up. The last attendance, both in Ireland and Australia, was around the 38,000 mark, which is half decent, but still the receipts probably weren’t much more than the amount needed to cover the costs of staging the event.

When you add up all the factors you come to the conclusion of what is the point? The public is disinterested, the best team in the country don’t give a damn, and the GAA are probably just on the take. Now maybe the series will be a huge rip roaring success over the next few weeks, and I’ll be forced to eat my words, but somehow I doubt it. So best of luck to Joe Kernan and the lads getting a nice holiday in Australia for the next few weeks. We’re all envious of you. Just don’t expect us to get up at all hours of the morning to watch it.

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