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How are the Aussies shaping up ahead of Sunday's International Rules opener in Adelaide?

We take an in-depth look at the major talking points surrounding the Australian side.

AUSTRALIA-ADELAIDE-LANDSCAPE The Adelaide Oval in downtown Adelaide Source: Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

ON SUNDAY, THE Irish International Rules team will run out in the Adelaide Oval to take on Australia in the opening test of the series.

While the likes of Aidan O’Shea, Michael Murphy, Pearce Hanley, Conor McManus and Eoin Cadogan are seasoned international players, there are plenty of rookies travelling too.

Of the 23 players who’ve made the trip Down Under, 14 haven’t featured in an International Rules game before.

But what about the Aussies? 13 members of Chris Scott’s squad are set to make their debuts for Australia in this series. Scott, who’s also coach of AFL side Geelong, initially named a 17-man list back in October, before adding a further five names as late call-ups earlier this month.

Australia team huddle Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Australia squad

Adelaide: Eddie Betts, Rory Laird*, Rory Sloane*
Brisbane: Dayne Zorko*
Carlton: Kade Simpson
Collingwood: Scott Pendlebury
Essendon: Brendon Goddard, Zach Merrett*
Fremantle: Nat Fyfe*
Geelong: Gary Ablett*, Patrick Dangerfield, Joel Selwood
Hawthorn: Shaun Burgoyne*, Jack Gunston*
Melbourne: Michael Hibberd*, Neville Jetta*
North Melbourne: Robbie Tarrant*, Ben Brown*
Port Adelaide: Travis Boak*, Paddy Ryder*, Chad Wingard
West Coast: Luke Shuey
*denotes a debutant 

There are plenty of big names in the Australian side and media reports from Down Under in the past few weeks have frequently referred to Scott’s squad as “star-studded.”

Patrick Dangerfield and Sean Cavanagh Patrick Dangerfield competes for a ball with Sean Cavanagh in 2014 Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

The Aussies are without Toby Greene – who made the All-Australian team (their version of the All-Stars) in 2016 and was leading goal kicker for his club Greater Western Sydney this year.

The talented half-forward was ruled out of the series in unusual circumstances. The Giants announced on 26 October that the 24-year-old broke his toe after he “accidentally hit his left foot against a wall” while holidaying in New York.

Giants star Josh Kelly was named in a provisional squad but has since withdrawn, as did West Coast wingman Andrew Gaff.

The only other notable absentee from the Australian squad is powerful 26-year-old midfielder Dustin Martin, who helped Richmond to victory in the AFL Grand Final in September.

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Martin enjoyed a history-making season in 2017 and became first player to win a Brownlow Medal (the award for the fairest and best player during the regular season), a Premiership title and Norm Smith Medal (the award given to the best player in the AFL Grand Final) in a single season. He also picked up the Gary Ayres Award as the best player in this year’s play-offs.

A colourful character, ‘Dusty’ Martin decided against cutting his Premiership celebrations short to join up with the Australian squad after he was named on the provisional list.

He’s currently on a six-week party tour of the USA, where he kicked off the trip with a visit to Austin City Limits Music Festival in Texas to see the likes of Jay-Z, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers and The XX in action.

Day 1 of plenty..

A post shared by Dane (@danes84) on

The following week the Richmond star was videoed spraying a bottle of champagne over a large crowd in an Austin nightclub. Martin is expected to finish up his tour in Las Vegas.

“He was sounded out and certainly expressed strong interest in the concept, as most players do,” Australia coach Luke Ball said of Martin.

“In the end, he got back to us only last night and said ‘look, the body needs a rest’, and that’s understandable with the season that he’s had.”

Martin’s absence means there are no players from the Premiership-winning Richmond side in Scott’s squad as they look to claim the Cormac McAnallen Cup for the first time since 2014.

Of course, Joe Kernan’s Irish squad won’t feature any members of the three-in-a-row winning Dublin team either, due to injuries, work and club commitments.

Bernard Brogan celebrates with Philly 'Dangerfield' McMahon Bernard Brogan and Philly 'Dangerfield' McMahon won't be involved this year Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The AFL made the decision to revamp their selection criteria in 2014, which meant that only previous All-Australian players could be selected in the national squad. This is also the first series between the countries since 2013 – in 2014 and 2015 one-off games were played.

While there have been some critics of the hybrid game in both Ireland and Australia, the Aussie boss Scott has defended the series. He played against Ireland under manager Garry Lyon back in 2001.

“Until you’ve really been a part of it you don’t really understand the passion that the people involved have,” Scott told SEN Breakfast radio station on Friday.

“I must admit, from the outside let’s say 10 years ago particularly when the best players weren’t playing, I think it was easy to understand the attitude that it wasn’t being taken seriously.

“We shouldn’t compare it to our game and our finals series necessarily because that’s the pinnacle of our game and nothing will change that,” he said.

“But this is an opportunity we have to take our game internationally and even though it is different, it’s an exciting game.

Dermott Earley and Chris Scott DIGITAL Dermott Earley and Chris Scott compete for possession in 2001 Source: INPHO

“It’s really high intensity, it’s free-flowing, it’s attacking and we’re certainly going to play an attacking brand of footy. We’re going to risk getting scored against to try to score ourselves.

“If people take that approach, that it is something different, it’s close enough to AFL footy that the people who love our game could enjoy it but it’s different enough to see something we don’t get exposed to for 12 months a year.”

Port Adelaide’s Chad Wingard stoked the flames last week with his dismissive remarks about the Irish side to the Channel Seven TV station.

“We’re professional athletes, they’re amateurs,” Wingard said.

“This is our job full-time, so we’ve been hitting the gym. We’re obviously a lot fitter than they are, so we’ve got to use that advantage.

“If it’s physicality, we’ve got a few big boys to try and push them around and try and win. Whatever advantage we get, and what we think we have, we’re going to use.”

AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan was also speaking to the media last week and he stated that Australia must use their physical advantage over Ireland in the two games.

“Our guys will play the right style of football, I’m confident of that,” McLachlan told reporters in Adelaide last Wednesday.

“It’s not like the Irish are shrinking violets. There’s a physicality advantage that I think we have. We have to be very legal and very fair about it. We need to be sure we need to exploit that to try and win the game.”

McLachlan added that there would be “a significant consequence” if players crossed the line and resorted to illegal tactics.

“We’ve got a team that’s here to play proper football,” he said.

Breaking down the Australian squad

Ireland boss Kernan indicated last month that he selected his squad based on the type of game he expects from Australia.

“The Aussies are changed a wee bit,” he said at the squad announcement. “They’ve a few more smaller men and the word from out there is that they will be a wee bit more ball-skilled and a wee bit more mobile.

Joe Kernan and Shane Walsh arrive Manager Joe Kernan and Shane Walsh arriving in Melbourne Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“They had a lot of big guys, and, now, the big guys caused us loads of problems the last day. It’s a mixture of both.”

Cl0ser inspection of the Australian squad falls in line with Kernan’s thinking. Here we break down their panel by height, while their age, AFL position and weight are in brackets.

5’9″

Eddie Betts (30 years old, small forward, 73 kg)
Dayne Zorko (28, midfielder/forward, 74 kg)

5’10″

Rory Laird (23, small defender/midfielder, 77 kg)

5’11″

Zach Merrett (22, midfielder, 80 kg)
Neville Jetta (27, defender, 81 kg)

6’0″

Kade Simpson (33, half-back, 76 kg)
Travis Boak (29, midfielder, 85 kg)
Chad Wingard (24, midfielder/forward, 82 kg)
Luke Shuey (27, midfielder, 88 kg)
Joel Selwood (29, midfielder, 86 kg)
Rory Sloane (27, midfielder, 83 kg)
Gary Ablett (33, midfielder, 87 kg)

6’1″

Shaun Burgoyne (35, defender/midfielder, 89 kg)

6’2″
Patrick Dangerfield  (27, midfielder/forward, 92 kg)
Michael Hibberd (27, defender, 90 kg)

6’3″

Nat Fyfe (26, midfielder/forward, 91 kg)

6’4″

Jack Gunston (26, forward, 87 kg)
Scott Pendlebury (29, midfielder, 91 kg)
(GK) Brendon Goddard (32, midfielder/defender, 94 kg)

6’5″

Robbie Tarrant (28, defender, 96 kg)
Paddy Ryder (29, ruckman, 94 kg)

6’7″

Ben Brown (24, forward/ruckman, 101 kg)

Martin Clarke Scott Pendlebury (r) played with Marty Clarke (l) at Collingwood Source: Getty Images/INPHO

The Australian squad includes four Premiership winners in Joel Selwood, Scott Pendlebury, Shaun Burgoyne and Gary Ablett as well as Brownlow medalists Nat Fyfe, Patrick Dangerfield and Ablett.

Jack Gunston, a late call-up to the squad, told the press over the weekend about his excitement at linking up with some of the greats of Australian Rules.

“When you get a phone call asking you to represent your country it’s pretty hard to knock it back. It was unexpected, but whether it was a day before or half a year before, it wasn’t something I was going to knock back and I’m looking forward to it,” Gunston told the Herald Sun.

“You’re playing with some of the stars of the game, playing against another country and it’s something we don’t get to do in an Australian competition.

“But the (Nathan) Fyfe’s and the ‘Pendles’ (Pendlebury), and these guys who’ve dominated the game for so long; to spend 10 days with them and see how they do it will be something pretty cool.”

Brendon Goddard celebates after he scored Australias 2nd goal 5/11/2006 Brendon Goddard scored a goal for Australia in the 2006 series, and will play between the posts this time around Source: Andrew Paton/INPHO

Scott said Essendon star Brendon Goddard “drew the short straw” and will play in goals for the series. (There is no goalkeeper in Australian Rules).

“It would be a big trap for us to fall into to try and play it the way the Irish do,” said Scott.

“One of the advantages of having a guy like Brendon behind the ball is he’s played the game before and he’s really smart. We’ll try and get our goalkeeper involved a little bit I think.

“We’ll play an attacking brand of footy and look to score, which might leave us a little bit vulnerable defensively but I think that’s what the fans want to see.”

During stages of the the 2015 game, Australia played a full-court press and goalkeeper Hayden Ballantyne pushed up as a corner-back, giving them an extra player in the offensive end of the field.

Judging by Scott’s comments, it’s likely they’ll opt for a similar style on Sunday.

Bit of round ball prep for Sunday week in Adelaide

A post shared by Scott Pendlebury (@sp_10) on

Australia are not having their first collective training session until Thursday, although the players have been practising with GAA footballs on their own over the last week.

“We’re really cognizant that this is the players’ off-season and we want to be as respectful of that as possible,” said Scott. “Given we are playing the two games this year, we want to keep it pretty tight.

“Getting the guys together a few days before we play is going to be a challenge. We’ll be cramming a fair bit into that, I guess coaching 101, but when you’ve got really good players you put them into positions they play their best footy.

“We know the game is different but the most important thing for us is we don’t complicate it, we give them a pretty simple formula to follow and let the best players strut their stuff.”

  • Australia v Ireland, Adelaide Oval, Sunday 5am (Irish time), Live on RTÉ

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