International Rules: Scene set for Breffni Park opener

Michael Murphy and Daniel Wells
Michael Murphy and Daniel Wells

Ireland take to the pitch for the first of their two International Rules Tests against Australia in the hope of retaining the crown they won in 2011.

The nations did not contest the Cormac McAnallen Trophy last year but the hybrid game returns in 2013 amid continued speculation about its future.

Australia won the series the last time it was staged in Ireland in 2010.

The first Test is being played at Breffni Park on Saturday, with the second game at Croke Park a week later.

The fixtures, which combine a mixture of gaelic games and Australian Rules guidelines, looked to be one step from oblivion until 2008 when a rule was brought in where a red card or foul might carry over into domestic games.

Since then, there has been no repeat of the violent scenes which marred the 2006 series.

However, the last two contests between the sides have lacked the necessary appeal and balance to make them compelling spectacles.

In 2010, two tame contests made it a fairly dull proposition for the crowds in Limerick and Dublin.

The aggregate score from that series, 102-92, hid the fact that the Aussies bossed both games and ran out comfortable winners.

This was reflected in the fact that the atmosphere was largely subdued until a last-quarter flurry from Ireland in Croke Park.

Ireland manager Paul Earley
Ireland manager Paul Earley has experience in his squad

Two years ago, in Australia, the games were even less competitive, with Anthony Tohill's men running out resounding 130-65 victors on aggregate.

The Irish team won the first Test by 44 points and then the second 50-29.

On this occasion, Australia have decided to send a panel made up of indigenous players only, thereby restricting the eligibility criteria.

It should be noted however that the Australians have rarely sent their absolute best line-up because of club commitments, injuries and other reasons.

From an Irish point of view, surprisingly there are no Kerry players in the panel, while captain Michael Murphy has a county final with Glenswilly in Donegal less than 24 hours after the first Test.

Manager Paul Earley's squad has plenty of experience in their ranks, with Tyrone's Sean Cavanagh set to win his 11th cap and Finian Hanley having already played in three series.

Laois forward Zac Tuohy is the only AFL-based player in the Irish squad.

Australia can boast a multi-million pound player in their ranks, in the form of Lance Franklin, who has recently signed with the Sydney Swans.

The 26-year-old is among an elite group of AFL players who have scored 100 goals in a season, although he is not available for the second Test.

Aussie coach Michael O'Loughlin has named Daniel Wells as captain, one of only three squad members who have played the sport before.

Meanwhile Kerry All-Ireland winner Tadhg Kennelly is part of the Australian coaching team.

Statistics indicate that the travelling team tend to up their collective games for these contests but it remains to be seen if that trend will continue this year.

Ireland squad: Michael Murphy (Donegal), cpt, Aidan Walsh (Cork), Aidan Walsh (Cork), Paddy O' Rourke (Meath), Colm Begley (Laois), Colm Boyle (Mayo), Ciaran Byrne (Louth), Sean Cavanagh (Tyrone), Paul Conroy (Galway), Paul Flynn (Dublin), Finian Hanley (Galway), Lee Keegan (Mayo), Ciaran Kilkenny (Dublin), Paddy McBrearty (Donegal), Jack McCaffrey (Dublin), Neil McGee (Donegal), Chrissy McKaigue (Derry), Kevin McLoughlin (Mayo), Conor McManus (Monaghan), Ross Munnelly (Laois), Aidan O'Shea (Mayo), Ciarán Sheehan (Cork), Michael Shields (Cork), Zach Tuohy (Carlton and Laois).

Australia squad: Tony Armstrong (Sydney Swans), Dominic Barry (Melbourne), Eddie Betts (Adelaide), Alwyn Davey (Essendon), Aaron Davey (Melbourne), Shaun Edwards (GWS), Cameron Ellis-Yolmen (Adelaide), Lance Franklin (Sydney Swans), Jarrod Harbrow (Gold Coast), Joshua Hill (West Coast), Leroy Jetta (Essendon), Lewis Jetta (Sydney Swans), Nathan Lovett-Murray (Essendon), Ashley McGrath (Brisbane Lions), Steven Motlop (Geelong), Jake Neade (Port Adelaide), Mathew Stokes (Geelong), Lindsay Thomas (North Melbourne), Sharrod Wellingham (West Coast), Daniel Wells (North Melbourne) (c), Christopher Yarran (Carlton).

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