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'I didn't want to be bull*****ing an Australian player after the way they behaved a few hours earlier'

Former Ireland players Steven McDonnell and Ciarán McManus speak to The42 about some of the turbulent years for the International Rules.

THERE WAS A moment in the first test of the 2006 International Rules series that prompted Armagh’s Steven McDonnell to worry about the second game.

International Rules team line up Irish players lining up ahead of the second test in the 2006 International Rules series. Source: Tom Honan/INPHO

Curioustiy about what would unfold in that next meeting between the sides would soon set in for many others in Ireland, on account of Graham Geraghty’s citing for a tackle on Lindsay Gilbee, which stirred up the blood in the Australian camp.

The match was a low-scoring encounter overall (48-40) with little to no meaningful clashes between the sides. In truth, the only shots being dropped were landing into the keeper’s hands, and both sets of players were guilty of that offence.

But an incident in the fourth quarter that failed to attract attention at the time, had McDonnell feeling apprehensive about the second test before the commentary about the Geraghty incident even started to flare up.

In the final moments of that game in Galway, fellow Armagh teammate, Kieran McGeeney landed a shoulder challenge on one of the Australian opponents which resulted in a turnover for Ireland.

It also paved the way for a decisive goal that would seal a victory for Seán Boylan’s side, and give them an overall advantage in the series.

Joe Bergin and manager Sean Boylan at the end of the game 2006 Ireland manager Seán Boylan pictured after defeat in the second test. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

McDonnell played a key role in the counter-attacking move, and he sensed that the visitors from Down Under did not like the concept of getting outmuscled by the amateur Irish sportsmen.

“It was probably the cleanest and fairest hit that I’ve ever seen in an International Rules game from Kieran McGeeney on the guy that was marking me that evening, Campbell Brown,” McDonnell tells The42.

“I could see Kieran coming out of nowhere and he hit him a fair shoulder. Both players went to the ground at the same time but the ball broke to me and I think that might have led to Joe Bergin’s goal.

That for me, was a statement from Kieran to the Australians, ‘We’re not going to take your sh*t.’

The Australian team made their feelings known about Geraghty’s challenge on Gilbee, and indicated that the Meath man was a potential target in the second test.

In an interview with the Herald Sun, Gilbee was quoted as saying that Geraghty was ‘going to get his own next match. He probably won’t want to go near the ball. Put it this way, we will retaliate. It’s open slather this week.’

It appeared as though his card had been marked, and irrespective of whether the trash talk was meant in jest or not, hostilities began to kick in before the throw-in for the second game in Croke Park.

Paul Galvin and Australia’s Chance Batemen were the first to be disciplined by the referee, with both players receiving yellow cards after just one minute of action which put them in the sinbin. Galvin’s Kerry teammate Aidan O’Mahony followed them shortly after as the conflict continued around the pitch.

Down forward Benny Coulter found himself on the receiving end of a bone-crunching hit, which forced him to makeway with a bloody nose, while Geraghty would also make an early exit on a stretcher after he landed awkwardly from a challenge by Danyle Pearce.

Ireland_v_Australia_2nd_test_2006 Source: makeagif.com

McDonnell prefers to remember the 2006 series as one where Ireland scored a deserved victory in the first test, although they lost the series by an emphatic aggregate scoreline of 109-79.

But even after 11 years, the violence of the second game conjures up feelings of anger for him.

“At the end of the day, the Australians are a proud nation. All they want to do is go out and win at all costs and they brought that mentality to the second test.

But it wasn’t football they were there to play, they came with the intention of boxing and that was simply it. We would have preferred to be more in tune with that type of bull**** if I’m being brutally honest.

“They targeted players that they saw as a threat to them and they got away with it and that was it.”

Steven McDonnell of Ireland with Andrew Raines of Australia Steven McDonnell getting to know Andrew Raines of Australia. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

He continued: ”I can remember in the last quarter with the guy that I was marking, for the whole quarter, we just stood with a hold of each other’s jersey and we were jabbing each other in the jaw.

There was one ball in particular that went right past me and if my head was in the game, I would have just gone for the ball but the ball went passed us, the cameras went passed us and we were just standing, jabbing each other.

“That’s not the way I should have been but that’s the way that game turned out. They certainly did target individuals. They targeted Paul Galvin, they targeted Graham Geraghty because of what was said and Benny Coulter.”

While appreciating the impact of the Geraghty factor on this particular series, rough play marred proceedings in other International Rules series, but perhaps not to the same extent.

Offaly’s Ciaran McManus featured in seven series between 1999 and 2005 and would have experienced some of that over the years while playing tests in Australia as well as the ones that were staged in Ireland.

Irish Times GAA correspondent Seán Moran recently put forward the argument that the decline of the discipline in the International Rules possibly took place after the 2004 series, in what he calls ‘genesis of the series’ difficulties.’

He writes: ”A poor Australian team, beaten by 36 in the first test, targeted their opponents before the throw-in – selecting two of the home side’s best performers from the previous week Ciarán McDonald from Mayo and Cork’s Seán Ó hAilpín.

Source: Ach gohairithe/YouTube

“No disciplinary action was taken afterwards and violent misbehaviour became a feature of the next two series.”

McManus however, believes that relations didn’t suddenly just degenerate between Ireland and Australia during the 90′s and 2000′s, and that there were incidents of tensions spilling over from long before that.

I think there’s a bit to play in the old culture of 20 years ago in the 80′s when the rough and tumble was maybe a bit more prevalent. There’s a culture there that just never got buried but I hope it is now.

“I stood up for my own lads. There was no standing back. It was only for a short length and if any of our lads were in trouble, it was one in all in type of thing. I know the rules changed and the second man that came in was in big trouble but before that rule came in, I think we all stood up to each other as best we could.

“There never an intention for any of that to happen, ever and you’d be disappointed with the focus on it.

“There is harder tacking in AFL and I would say maybe some of the more physical tackles, we might have taken exception to at times and that might have inflamed the situation.”

Both McManus and McDonnell suspect that the professional versus amateur element of this unique sport may also have influenced the bad conduct, and a feeling that the Aussie Rules players would not want to concede defeat to the Gaelic footballers.

The series was cancelled for one year after the antics of 2006, and the tests resumed in 2008.

McDonnell stresses that both countries made an effort to erase the tensions ahead of the 2008 series, by attending a meal together a few nights before the first test. The atmosphere between the parties was somewhat awkward, according to the 2002 All-Ireland winner, but the social gathering enabled players from both teams to bury the past and look towards rekindling the hybrid game.

A fight breaks out between the two teams Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Before that reconciliation took place however, McDonnell says that he was left with an unsavoury feeling towards the Australians after an unexpected meeting in Copper Face Jacks on the night of the second test.

“We had our section cordoned off for the Irish players and the craic was brilliant. We forgot quickly about the game and went about our night’s business which was drinking and having a bit of fun. The wives, girlfriends and partners were all there as well.

“Next thing the Australian team came in and tried to mingle among the Irish players and that left a sour taste, certainly in my mouth.

At the end of the day, their antics maybe a few hours earlier was total bull**** in terms of what they brought to the game and I didn’t want to be sitting bull*****ing to an Australian player that night and playing all niceties with him after the way they behaved a few hours earlier.

“That put a sour taste in my mouth. I certainly didn’t mingle the way I have after other test games to the same extent that night.”

Ireland are in Australia this weekend to carry on the International Rules tradition, and take on the host nation over two tests, with the first one taking place in Adelaide on Sunday morning. The deciding match is scheduled to take place in Perth on Saturday 18 November.

McManus is confident that the unpleasant history between the sides will not have a bearing on the games, and that the number of skirmishes will be at a minimum.

“The players never really worried about that, honestly. It was disappointing that it happened.

“Last year was good and I think that this year will be a good series. I think both countries have moved on, the GAA has moved on so much in terms of development, coaching and code of conduct.”

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