Dublin: 5°C Monday 6 December 2021

A pub fight, that hearing, the perfect storm: Inside Australia's 2006 international rules tour

Maurice Brosnan speaks to some of the Aussies who made up one of the most controversial and eventful International Rules series ever.

ireland oz 1991

15 YEARS LATER, the wild images remain just as striking. “Thuggery” bemoaned Ireland manager Sean Boylan. “A day of shame” declared the headlines.

Retracing the path reveals it was only ever going to end one way.

The second Test of the 2006 international rules series in Croke Park bludgeoned its way into history. Australia was victorious but at a great cost.

Amidst a flurry of fists and weeks of controversy, the exhibition tour hit a low point from which it has scarcely recovered.

Memories are erratic. Some protrude more than others. Australia defender Andrew Raines remembers the wait feeling almost eternal as the home team gathered in their dressing room and considered abandoning the game.

Forwards coach Brian Stynes recalls the frosty reception from friends and former team-mates in the upper decks of Croke Park post-match.

AFL talent manager Kevin Sheehan was sitting in the stands, surrounded by dignitaries from both nations, as the mood started to turn.

“I remember Demetriou, the CEO of the AFL, turning around and saying to me, ‘what the hell is happening, Kevin?’ Talk about stress.

  • For more great storytelling and analysis from our award-winning journalists, join the club at The42 Membership today. Click here to find out more >

“He is sitting next to the president of Ireland, Mary McAleese. Can you imagine that conversation? We’ve been guests of hers all week. Visited the park, went for dinner, had a wonderful time until it all turns pear-shaped.”

This was no freak outbreak. Rumblings were evident, the tremors extended back to 2005 and beyond. Add an Ireland victory in the first test, an unpunished off-the-ball incident and a sold-out Croke Park into the mix, and such swelling was always going to cause the volcano to erupt.

It is said that the GAA is the vehicle that allows expression of our national temperament. The Irish feeling was obvious; sheer outrage that is evidently still smouldering in places as evidenced when the story is routinely rehashed and revisited.

But what of the victors? 15 years on, we spoke to their coach, backroom staff, players and officials. This is their story of that unforgettable trip.

Kevin Sheedy (head coach, Essendon): “I played for Australia in 1978 but I broke my leg in Dublin. I still remember sitting in a hospital thinking, ‘damn. I won’t get another chance.’ I always took it seriously.”

Lindsay Gilbee (defender, Western Bulldogs): “I thoroughly enjoyed it. Both teams were so passionate about representing their country. For us, it was the pinnacle.”

Andrew Raines (midfielder, Richmond): “One of the most enjoyable trips of my career. First just the experience. Then on the field. When we went over there, we wanted to play strong and hard football. Dish it up.

“I think we wanted to change the reputation a bit, that we could play really good footy with the round ball. And we really, really wanted to win.”

Brian Stynes (Assistant coach alongside his brother Jim): “At the very start, when I first got involved, I said it outright. ‘If they do wrong, suspend them from their own games. Make the punishment carry over and there will be no fighting.’ No one ever listened. They kept changing small rules. Third man in gets put off, this and that. At the end of the day, that changes nothing. If you don’t get suspended from your own game, it is like a free pass for a fight.”

Kevin Sheehan (AFL Talent Ambassador): “We got better after 2006 and the skirmishes. The purpose was to celebrate two of the greatest sporting codes in the world. That is what they are. We had to do what we did with the juniors after that. Have dinners before the test, sit them down like bloody kids to get to know each other.”

Stynes: “We never once said get in there and hit them. We wanted to win but there is no way Jimmy and I would stand in a dressing room and say hit our own. Never.”

James McDonald (midfielder, Melbourne): “Mate, even before I played there was massive interest. We travelled to Ireland on a footy trip in 2000 and went to Croke Park for a game. We were just on a bonding trip with Melbourne Demons. It used to get great coverage in Melbourne for whatever reason.”

Sheehan: “Kevin Sheedy said it was one of the best experiences of his life. One of our most experienced and greatest coaches. He won four Premierships remember. He made that comment when they had the chance to coach the country, it was such a different feeling. To coach the best players in our country and get to know them.”

McDonald: “It was a great to play alongside some of the game’s best players. Kevin Sheedy was the coach, I ended up joining GWS Giants later and coaching with him for a few years.

Everyone on that trip was amazing. Jimmy and Brian Stynes were there. They were all over the Gaelic influence.”

Sheedy: “Jim Stynes loved the international rules. He was so passionate about it, the whole connection.”

jim-stynes-assistant-coach-21102006 Jim Stynes reads a story about himself in the paper. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

McDonald: “I played with Jimmy, so I knew him. Sheeds was the motivator and he certainly did that. You need someone from an Australian point of view to drive it. Sheedy was always a great promoter of the game. We needed people behind the scenes to generate the necessary enthusiasm.”

Stynes: “Sheedy was a big thinker. He’s clever, really clever. I just hit the shores coming back from Ireland in 2004. I coached in Dublin before I left with St. Marks. Jim told Sheedy, ‘Brian is back now. He played in the series, played both codes and he coached in Ireland.’”

Sheedy: “The result in 2004? Pathetic. I am not saying Australia didn’t perform well but we didn’t train well. It was time to do things differently.”

Stynes: “Sheedy interviewed me before 2005 and said, ‘right, I want you to do X, Y, Z.’

He knew how to get good people and put them in the right spots. I pretty much brought my gameplan from Marks into it. Then he asked me to write the gameplan. Then the training for it. So, I set out how we would just play to our strengths and nullify Ireland. A few people didn’t think it would work, but the main one was Sheedy and he said let’s do it.

“There was pressure on me. Thankfully, it went well. The first game 2005 we annihilated the Irish. I was relieved that what I brought worked but at the same time, I don’t want to smash them! I wanted it to be close as well.”

Sheedy: “Jim didn’t think we’d win. He told me that, which was comforting!”

Raines: “I got the news I was selected in 2006. Straight away I rang Dad (Geoff Raines). He played under him at Essendon. I asked what is Sheeds like? They got on really well. ‘He thinks leftfield and if he rates you, he’ll be a really good coach.’

“I got on great with him. He was a big motivator. Choco (Mark) Williams was there as well because the Premiership winning coach went on the trip. He’d a long affiliation with Dad. They played together with Brisbane Bears. So as a youngster I felt comforted by having these older coaches who I sort of had a prior relationship with.”

After suffering a 132-82 loss on aggregate in 2004 under former Melbourne football and current media personality Garry Lyon, Australia appointed Essendon Hall of Famer Kevin Sheedy as head coach for 2005 and 2006. They won 163–106 in 2005, although the second test ended with a red card for captain Chris Johnson after a high tackle on Philip Jordan.

kevin-sheedy Australia manager, Kevin Sheedy. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Sheedy: “It took 25 years for them to ask me to coach the country. My grandparents are Irish. They are not very smart the AFL. I would have cleaned it up quicker and better before that.

“It was an insult to all of us, every coach in the country. It was an absolutely disgraceful insult. To not have Australian coaches coaching Australia like they used to. In the early days, (Ron) Barassi coached.

“Somewhere along the line they took their eye off it and lost focus. People in high places look at themselves in the mirror too long. Australia’s coaches should coach Australia. Not TV and radio personalities. Make that your headline! Get that point across.”

Stynes: “The end of the second game in 2005 was the Johnson tackle. I was shocked. Holy Christ.”

Sheedy: “I love my history. In 2005, I decided to have two aboriginal captains. Andrew Mcleod and Chris Johnson. One from Darwin up north, the other from Melbourne. One was our captain on the West Coast, one on the East Coast. it was important for indigenous people to have the chance to be leaders in football and for others to see it was possible. Neither were captains in their clubs.

“But they were leaders.”

Stynes: “Chris Johnson lost the run of himself that day. I’m sure he wouldn’t be proud of that. He was a lovely fella and a great footballer. He is still involved in the AFL here. There is no way he’d condone that. The next year there was so much talk about the tackle, so I said it again. ‘Lads, suspend them from their games. They won’t do it.’ Didn’t happen.”

Raines: “The year before that, Ireland came out to us and there was the Chris Johnson hit. That tarnished it a bit. It was viewed as violence.”

Sheedy: “It was wrong. Blatantly wrong. Chris made a bad error there. The Irish boys were racking our legs and our boys got shitty about it. I said ‘I’ve asked the Irish to tell their players to stop. You can punch an Australian, we don’t care. But kick us, welcome to cowboy land.’”

Stynes: “Look, there was always fights. I watched the game in ’84. Mark Lee, the huge ruckman from Richmond, he got a ball and tore down the middle. Threw an elbow up and hit Barney Rock in the chin. Kept going, threw another elbow up and hit Ciaran Duff. I think he damaged both of their jaws.

“I remember thinking this is absolutely mad. There was a lad in the goal, McIntosh, he’d a big handlebar moustache. He was out punching the head off Bomber Liston. For us that was the bygone era.”

In 2006, Australia travelled to Ireland. Once again, Sheedy took control and selected a squad that was not restricted to All-Australian award winners, instead opting for fast, technical players with transferable skills.

Gilbee: “Under pressure, the round ball really takes a toll. But the one thing is, it is such a pleasure to be able to run and know you will get a true bounce. It won’t deviate or bounce sideways. I played in 05, got an O’Neill’s before it and trained with it for weeks and weeks.”

Sheedy: “I dismissed the All-Australian team. Previously you had to be All-Australian to make it. Everyone at AFL level said, you won’t get that through. I said, ‘I already did the deal with the commissioner.’ I deleted that entirely. When they asked me to take the team, I made it clear: ‘now, these are my commandments. If we do these, I’ll take the job.’

“I asked the AFL to write to every player. Give them this comment: ‘If you ever want to play for Australia, express interest by the end of July or you will never play for Australia while I am coach. I only want people invested in it.’ When we got on the plane, I wanted them to be committed. That’s what they were.”

Raines: “I found it difficult at the start. The drop punt, you want to kick that with backspin whereas with the oval you want to kick over, which I found needed some getting used to. We played a scratch match against a Gaelic club in Melbourne at Waverly Park and did a training camp before we left.”

McDonald: “The round ball was hard, definitely. I struggled with that, just could not master it. That was the biggest thing, but the game is very similar.”

Sheedy: “A big help was we had a wonderful goalkeeper in Dustin Fletcher. For us throughout, it was very hard to find a goalkeeper. He was the best we’ve ever had in the international Rules. Jim told me that, he’d be sensational in Ireland because he could play out the field if he needed to as well.”

Raines: “Jim and his brother Brian, they were great. Really good guys. They had a remarkable ability to galvanise a group. We started off at Bunratty Castle in Clare. We had this beautiful dinner in the ballroom, then Jimmy got up to talk about Irish history. He told us about Bloody Sunday and everything. It was an educational trip too.”

Gilbee: “Jim was amazing, but God rest him, he wasn’t the best singer. He sang ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ to us. It was quite powerful because not many knew the story. He and Brian had a huge passion for the series.”

Stynes:” It was one of the proudest things I’d done being able to represent my country as a player. I had this thing about the All-Stars. I’d an All-Star when we won in ‘95, but the next few years we got knocked out early and I felt like I was getting better but never got near one. I wasn’t in the shop window, I guess.

“When they picked an Irish team, I thought that’s a team I’d love to get into. I was fortunate enough to get picked for three years before I retired. I got to play against Jimmy. It is something I will remember for the rest of my life. To come together with him was great. To be honest, I would have loved to do it for Ireland. To help out. I never got a call which is fine, but I would have loved to do it.

“The fact we got to coach together for Australia was amazing.”

brian-and-jim-stynes-20102005 Source: ©INPHO

McDonald: “The different rules were a real challenge; the tackle was so different back then and that was a controversial issue.”

Sheehan: “It is a fine line. There are differences in interpretations in each sport. There are different types of tackle, what is legitimate and what is not. That can cause frustration. The important thing is you don’t let it overflow and become mayhem.”

Stynes: “I played in 1998, 1999, 2000 and we had some great fights. The first test, I’ll never forget it, we got these O’Neill’s jerseys. Anyway, the second they pulled us they started ripping. We’d be in scraps and the jersey would be hanging off.

“I got a call then after the first test, ‘Brian we have a real problem. We need a better jumper. What do we do about the jerseys?’ I had Jim’s Australia kit. They said can you bring it in, and we’ll try copy it. They basically copied the fabric and everything, that became the Irish one. That is why we wore the white one rather than green after that year.”

The first test in 2006 took place in a sold-out Pearse Stadium. Ireland won by eight points.

general-view-of-a-loose-dog-28102006 Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Sheehan: “It was all a bit mad from the start. This dog came out on the field pre-match. Do you know what he did? He goes and bites the Australian umpire, the referee. He must have been well trained!”

Mark Stevens, (journalist, Herald Sun): “In Galway all sorts was happening. Pitch invasions, it was a crazy tour. It meant we were so busy.”

Gilbee: “That ground, it was just a beautiful little stadium. Not big, but tight and hostile. The passion of Irish supporters was obvious there.”

Sheedy: “Galway was a beautiful university town. My mob came from somewhere that wasn’t too far away in Clare. I went there to look around for the Sheedy name. My mother’s side were Cusacks in Cobh.

“They didn’t understand how serious I was in Ireland. I was very proud of the way the Irish and Australians competed. I’ve had Irish people come up to me in Australia about it. They give me a hard time but also talk about how much they enjoyed it, how memorable it was.”

Sheehan: “Then we nearly ran out of balls during the first test. We were the suppliers and we had about 10 Gaelic footies that day. The crowd was so big, the ball would go over into the stand and they wouldn’t give it back. So, we got to a point in the second quarter where we only had one spare ball. We had to send a girl, who still works with us, we sent her to the hotel to get more. 35,000 packed in, a sell-out and we were nearly out of balls. What do you do then? We laughed later; we would’ve had to have a fight to keep them entertained!”

Sheedy: “We got beaten by a kick. It was a fantastic game. Just magnificent. Pearse Stadium, they got a goal late but right up until the death it was so close. Really exciting to be involved. At the final quarter the gap was four. They got off to a really good start, we clawed our way back at half time. Toe to toe.”

McDonald: “We lost the game and Kevin Sheedy had us really revved up for the second test. We wanted to win. It wasn’t a holiday. We came to win.”

Raines: “After we had a fair bit to drink at the Galway races, the AFL had planned it so well. We were disappointed to lose but we all went out and had a fantastic day.

“It carried into town and we drank a lot more, too much probably, as we do. We tried to find a line between it not being a junket and being serious when we trained, but you want to enjoy it. It is our offseason as well.

“We only had two weeks of leave at the end of the season so we wanted to party and have a good time in Ireland.”

McDonald: “That trip just had everything. Brendan Fevola got into it with a barman, the police chased him out of there. We went to the Races that day.”

brendan-fevola-21102006 Brendan Fevola. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Brendan Fevola (forward, Carlton, speaking as part of a panel at the annual Poker With The Stars Tournament earlier this year): “Number 9 comes screaming down the outside salutes and Hally (Barry Hall) and I won $62,000. I had the best day ever.”

Raines: “I think it was Adam Selwood, myself, a few more and Fev after the races. He was joking a bit with the guy behind the bar. I actually remember getting a phone call on the old mobile phones. It was family from home because of time difference, so I went to the toilet to take it.

“I came out and there were cop cars wailing out front. The whole bar was empty. ‘What the hell went on here?’ I went out and the boys were saying, Fev has done a runner and the cops are looking for him.”

Fevola: “I went to the pub and I thought to myself, ‘I don’t want to get in any fucking trouble’, so I picked two blokes to sit at the bar because I am cashed up and I am going to sit there and drink piss in Ireland and have the best night of my life.”

Stevens: “We had a day at the races. I knew Fev quite well. I remember walking down that cobbled street in Galway and then he put me in a headlock. A loving one. Within an hour he had that barman in a headlock.”

Fevola: “I got him in a massive headlock, sconed him, thought it was as funny as fuck, ran out, went back to a nightclub. He rang the police.”

Sheedy: “That was so stupid. It had nothing to do with footy. The boys had a big win at the races, I gave them one day off because I flogged the hell out of them in training all week. One day off.”

Stevens: “To be honest, it was one of the biggest stories I’ve been involved in. It was front and back page of the biggest circulating paper in the southern hemisphere. I heard it from a staffer, he whispered in my ear: ‘Fev is in trouble. He is going to be sent home.’”

Sheedy: “Mate, how could you get into trouble at 6.30pm? How dumb is that! I am literally making tea with the other coaches, and someone comes over to tell me there is a problem. I’d just finished my bowl of soup. How? We could not believe it. Foolishness.”

Raines: “Fev is not violent. I think the guy obviously took it to heart. The media got involved and it all got blown out of proportion. We kept going after to a nightclub. A few hours later, Fev comes running over disguised in someone else’s jacket! He’d been hiding.

“The next day, Andrew Demetriou (AFL CEO) and the hierarchy were in. Fev missed the first test, he came over late. Then he was due to play the next game but got sent home.”

David Galbally, (AM QC, legal representative for the AFL touring party): “The safest thing was to get him out of the country.”

Gilbee: “It became a big deal. Get an inch, take a mile. Knowing Fev, I know what he does for charities here. He made a bad choice on the drink, as many have before.”

Stevens: “There was no social media. No Twitter. I remember sitting with the media manager of Australia and we actually embargoed it. How much has journalism changed? Embargoed in time for us to run it front and back page. The first people heard about it was picking up the paper the next day. We interviewed him, then he was whisked away.”

In the days after the first test, Graham Geraghty was cited for a knee to the head of Australia’s Lindsay Gilbee.

Source: The42.ie/YouTube


Gilbee: “I was getting kicked in the ankles a fair bit. Then with Graham Geraghty, I felt like he was giving me cheap shots during the game. We ended up on the ground after a tackle anyway and he drops his knee onto my forehead. I got stitched up in some little dungeon with no light.”

Stynes: “In Galway, Geraghty goes and does that tackle on Gilbee. At the time, I mean I was really friendly with Geraghty. We played together for Ireland. Even though we were Meath and Dublin, the rivalry and didn’t get on as teams, we had a brilliant bond on tour.

“I caught up with him at a past player thing a few years ago and I really like Graham. But in that incident, he should have been suspended. He had to be.”

Raines: “I’m a bit biased in terms of what happened, but I still remember the knee. I was on the bench at the time, right near it. We were really, really pissed off at the time. Hang on, we were labelled thugs and bullies, and he did that in the first test!”

Sheehan: “I cited him. For that I was described as ‘vexatious and malicious.’ The incident was Graham Geraghty grabbed Lindsay Gilbee by the ears basically during a wrestling match and went crack, split him. Gilbee needed stiches. When you looked at the vision in slow motion it was obvious it had to be cited or there would be trouble the next week.”

Raines: “We got fired up after that. After that it comes down to the rules and whether or not you punish it. If they actually dealt with that it could’ve avoided some of what went on in Croke Park. It was just boiling over there. From the first bounce, it was on.”

Gilbee: “I don’t think it was a tackle. It was quite dirty. I mean he threw his knee at my head. It wasn’t handled… overly great. If it was one of us, we’d have been tortured.”

Sheehan: “He gets cited and really, the nature of the tribunal was two Irish and one Australian. David Galbally, the well-known Melbourne QC, he is part of our touring party. There was no hope of winning, two vs one.”

Galbally: “A three-man circus. Hardly independent.”

Sheehan: “That set the scene. Next match in front of 80,000. That meant there were no rules. Once he didn’t get put out for that, subconsciously the Australian players felt it was a free-for-all.”

Galbally: “It was extraordinary. I have to say, my memory was he had no respect for the tribunal. I was there for the AFL. I expected going in a two vs one hearing. This thing about stitches, it doesn’t matter. Four or five? So what? The whole thing was pretty heated.”

(An Irish report accused the Australian team of presenting conflicting evidence, after Gilbee said he received four stitches, but the team doctor said it was five.)

Sheedy: “It is the way it goes sometimes. I look at cricket now in the world of sport, look at who umpires in certain test matches between countries. They are objective. A fair basis.

“You need the right people from objective places to make decisions.”

Stynes: “You need to punish incidents like that. They needed to put down a marker that this is not acceptable. We didn’t highlight anything now; we just went out to win the second game.”

Stevens: “I interviewed Gilbee for the Herald. He spoke about it being ‘open slather’, mentioned retaliating and ‘hoping Geraghty does play’. It ended up on the back page of the Irish Independent.”

lindsay-gilbee-28102005 Lindsay Gilbee. Source: ©INPHO

Gilbee: “I became the most hated man in the country. Public enemy number one. People who know me will know what I am really like. I felt like the writing didn’t do my tone justice. It wasn’t about physically injuring someone.”

Stevens: “I felt sorry for Lindsay. He is one of the mildest mannered, nicest people. For two or three days he was the most hated man in Ireland. I actually felt a little guilty. He put himself in a sticky situation, he wasn’t renowned as a tough guy either.

“I don’t think he was that popular with the officials and the head of the AFL for saying that.”

The second test took place a week later in Croke Park.

the-australia-team-stand-for-the-national-anthem The Australia team stand for the National Anthem. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Sheedy: “Croke Park was a sell-out, the fulfilment of a dream for people like Harry Beitzel and Ian Law. I loved Ireland. I’ve been five times. I would love to go back if they asked me. I had some great times there. I’d love to say to them, we had more respect for Ireland by playing good hard footy rather than making it a junket. It was a disgrace that teams didn’t arrive ready. That year both stadiums sold out because people knew it would be a good game.”

McDonald: “The game in Galway was tense and tight. Then we get to Croke Park, and the Irish are winning 1-0, and everyone was revved up. Sheedy had us revved up.”

Sheedy: “The tension was amazing. It is the most incredible crowd I ever saw. Three thousand Australians and the rest Irish. I was looking around, looking at the Cusack stand, thinking of my heritage. Do you think I want to lose there?”

Raines: “It was sort of a perfect storm. There was so much going on. I don’t know about the other years, but it was so noisy, just newsworthy stuff everywhere. The Fev thing, the Chris Johnson hit the year before, the loss in Galway and that unpunished tackle…”


Get closer to the stories that matter with exclusive analysis, insight and debate in The42 Membership.

Become a Member

Stevens: “It was hard to convey the atmosphere If you weren’t there. I remember drums banging, it sounded like battle. People were going crazy. Our crowds aren’t as vocal.”

Gilbee: “I was really looking forward to playing in Croke Park, but I injured my quad during the warmup. So, I sat on the sideline and got a fair bit of abuse there. That’s okay too, it is all part of it. I’ve never played in a ground like it. We played over in West Coast and Adelaide with a majority being their fans but it doesn’t compare. Surreal.

“I watched from the bench, working with the defenders and really just soaked it in. Even the fact it’s a pitch instead of an oval, we don’t have that. Colosseum like.”

barry-hall Barry Hall. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Sheehan: “From the opening bounce, Barry Hall from Sydney kneed Tadhg Kennelly from Sydney in the side. He ruptured his spleen. Geraghty then got tackled by Danyl Pearce and hit his head on the ground.”

Gilbee: “There was no name on the whiteboard or anything like that. Our advantage was physicality, theirs was skillset. Far superior. We didn’t have any target; it was just an unfortunate incident.”

McDonald: “In our game now, in AFL, if Pearce did that he would get three weeks because of the new concussion rule but back then, that wasn’t even illegal in our game.”

Sheehan: “Pearce made the tackle on Geraghty. See, he didn’t play the first test. He hadn’t been part of it. What that means is he didn’t have the education. He was not part of the rules and regs. He did not understand the tackling stuff and you had to release before you hit the ground. He did not know Geraghty from a bar of soap. He wouldn’t have known he was the guy from the tribunal.

“He would get suspended now with the new rules but at the same time, it wasn’t a foul act. It was just a really physical tackle. It wasn’t like the knee. That started it all and it was off from there.”

Source: The42.ie/YouTube

Stynes: “Then that tackle happens. That happened every week back here. Like it was part of the game. We, as Aussies, didn’t see anything wrong with it. Now we would because you are not allowed to do a sling tackle anymore.”

(The AFL overhauled the sling tackle rules in 2020.)

Raines: “The atmosphere, I played in front of 80,000, 90,000 at the MCG. This was different. It was raucous. Very animated, just so loud. It felt like a bit of a festival. I guess because MCG is normally two different groups of supporters whereas this was mainly Irish. It was incredible.”

Sheedy: “The big problem was the crowd and Boylan thought he was king hit. Most of them thought that. Sean Boylan thought it was a disgrace. I said, ‘hold on here.’ I am standing on the boundary line hearing the discussion.”

McDonald: “I was playing on Tadhg, that was my job. I had to tag him. I was pretty lucky, he got crunched by Barry Hall. He was sore for the rest of the game.”

At quarter-time, Ireland manager Sean Boylan wanted to call the game off. His players persuaded him to continue.

Sheehan: “The Irish coach took the players off the pitch and away they went. You know, it was Tadhg, despite having a ruptured spleen, who talked them into coming back out.”

Raines: “At the break, the Irish coach came and was just yelling and ranting. Sheeds had to go outside. It felt really long. I think they were ready to boycott. Whispers were coming in that they were ready to pack it in.”

Gilbee: “I think it looked worse that an ambulance came on the ground and that got people worked up. For us, it was more play on. That is an unfortunate accident. That is really all it is.”

graham-geraghty-of-ireland-is-carried-off Graham Geraghty of Ireland is carried off. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Stynes: “Sean Boylan was a great, great coach. Revered. He coached against me a number of times. In saying that, he was a silent assassin. The nicest bloke ever when you bump into him. Then you play against his teams, and they kick the shit out of you.”

Raines: “All the stuff on the side was going on, but I still remember the play. We played a brilliant brand of football. We came along way from the first game, improved a lot of our skills. The result was just reward from that.”

McDonald: “At the same time, if you were a supporter there, I guess they had great enjoyment? It went over the line at times, but you’d be happy to pay money to watch it.”

Stynes: “I’d played Aussie Rules and Gaelic football. I didn’t think it was all over the top.”

Sheedy: “Can I say, I’d love to meet Boylan again, by the way. What a wonderful coach. See he thought Geraghty was struck illegally. Most people in the ground thought that too. The tension was so high. Boylan didn’t want to come back out then.

“I saw the exasperation written on his face. ‘We’ve had enough of this. Chris Johnson last year and now this. Do you really have to do this to win this damn game?’ When actually, it was just a tackle.”

Raines: “I remember Sheeds, talk about motivation, I’ll never forgot the meeting in Dublin the night before. He said ‘Raines! You’ve got Stevie McDonnell. Shut him out of the game.’ We had research on him, and he was a superstar there. I was 20, really young. He probably had me by five years and was in his prime. It went well. He got one over the back and one near the end, he only kicked two. In Galway he kicked four.

andrew-raines-and-steven-mcdonnell-5112006 Andrew Raines and Steven McDonnell. Source: Andrew Paton/INPHO

“That is something about that coaching group. It was so thorough. Sheeds knows his stuff. The first game McDonnell tore us apart really.”

Stynes: “I watched all the video and wrote up a spiel on each player. In 2006 I went over a few days earlier to watch training. Didn’t get much but just to have a look. Someone needed to be familiar with them because Australians had no idea. I watched tape and cut it so I could show snippets.”

Sheedy: “I said to him, ‘tell me who I need to worry about. What are their strengths and what are their weaknesses? Now tell us our strengths and weaknesses in comparison.’ Let me tell you, he was all over that.”

Raines: “I think he (McDonnell) was getting frustrated. Obviously, they were losing. He just turned around to me, I don’t if he remembers, we just started throwing at each other. The game was still going on around us. I’m going to put it back on him, I reckon he started it! Then we went from there. Knowing me I probably got mucked in.”

Australia won the game 69 – 31 and claimed the series.

McDonald: “Even before 2006, they were always physical games. But we’d go for beers after games in Galway and Dublin and they were always happy to sit down.

“I still remember this, we had admiration for the Irish boys because they are amateurs. How skilful they are and fit they are. It was hard to comprehend.”

Raines: “I had a beer with some of the Irish boys after that game. The same happened in Galway.”

Sheedy: ”I did say to the Irish press guys afterwards, ‘come on. There was 90,000 here today.’ They were all there, ‘what do you mean by that?’ There was only 83,000 or whatever. I said, ‘did you not count the leprechauns that came in under the gate?’ They did not like that at all. 90,000 it was! Look, to me it’s fun. Play the game and have a beer. I mucked around with our press guys over here at the time. The Irish weren’t in the mood for fun all that time.”

Stynes: “After the game Anthony Tohill was upstairs. We played together at Melbourne. I was close to him. I went up and said, ‘Anthony, how’s the form?’ He’d this really grim face on him. He says, ‘that’s the end of it. It has to be scrapped.’

“I was oblivious, ‘what are you talking about?’ He goes that is totally unacceptable.

Knocking Geraghty out! I said ‘it was just a tackle Anthony. It was unfortunate but it wasn’t a fist or off the ball.’ Then I realised all the Irish were up in arms. I didn’t know what to say.”

kevin-sheedy-and-sean-boylan-5112006 Australia manager Kevin Sheedy and Ireland manager Sean Boylan at the end of the game. Source: Andrew Paton/INPHO

Sheehan: “We suspended a few and had a tribunal. It was fairly obvious we needed a hiatus after that, settle it down. A year later, Antony Tohill, Pat Daly, Demetriou, Nickey Brennan (GAA president) and myself, we all met up in Dubai.

“There was a game there between Collingwood and Adelaide. We decided to meet and sort out what we needed to do. We wrote down exactly what we needed to do next.

“We all valued it, but it descended, led on by what happened here the year before. There was some niggle that year as well. Two years of unsavoury stuff. We needed to repair that damage.”

Sheedy: “It is one of those things I look back on now. Did I get it right or did we go too hard? It’s difficult to say. Very difficult. I would love to meet Boylan and apologise really.”

McDonald: “There is definitely still a place for it. Maybe it is every three years or so. But the group really enjoyed it.”

Raines: “I had no other Richmond players. A good mate, Brett Deledio, played in the previous series in ‘05. He was in the initial squad but opted to stay at home for his offseason. When he declined, I was disappointed, but it forced me to get out of my comfort zone.”

Stynes: “You form great relationships. Graham and I, we would have never talked to each other. We came together from that. Even the Australians, I still bump into those guys, and we got on really well. Sheedy got some really talented aboriginal guys involved. We actually became really close on the trip.”

Raines: “It was interesting, the story of how I went to Brisbane started in Galway. The first night, it was daunting being new on tour, and we all got room cards. They forced you to room with other players, so you got to know them. I thought I’d be with one of the younger guys but ended up with the great Michael Voss. I played against him in his final year and I always idolised him. I am from Queensland and I grew up watching him play with the Lions. I was so nervous when he walked in. Talk about not treating it like a junket, Vossy walks in and he has brought everything. His own pillow. His own supplements. He thought me lessons about how to travel properly and prepare. He opened up his bag, put his stuff away in drawers and everything. Basically, treated it like his home.

“I still remember taking that from it. We got chatting and he took a likening, I guess. We went out in Dublin after our last game and had a really good night, drinking in some bar the two of us. I wanted to ask him everything basically, two hours of questions. We exchanged numbers, kept in touch. Then he rang me in ‘09 to get me up to Brisbane. It was one of the greatest trips of my lifetime and ended up changing my career. Would I have played for the Lions otherwise?”

Sheedy: “The four games against Ireland were probably some of the happiest times of my coaching career, particularly when the Bombers were down.”

Stynes: “If you don’t like it, you don’t have to watch it. But I hope it comes back. The people involved got so much out of it. Those days are done. It’s cleaner and still competitive.”

Sheehan: “The bottom line, the win loss is 23-22 with two ties. The total points might be 20 points the difference. It is still a narrow margin. Incredibly competitive over 50 games or so. It is worth persevering with.”

Sheedy: “Do you know what is interesting? Talk about who was watching… I was invited by the United Kingdom to talk at a conference after that series. To talk at a conference to the coaches of the British Olympic team. They flew me to Birmingham, to the Belfry golf club. We’d a big seminar. They couldn’t understand how we turned it around and win like we did in 2005 and 2006.”

Raines: “2006 was incredible. Honestly, one of the best experiences of my life.”

Sheedy: “It is ridiculous we haven’t had it in years. Players should always be given the opportunity to represent their country, in games that were so close.”

Gilbee: I’d love to see it in rekindled. I know there is probably hesitancy and clubs now might be reluctant about injury, plus the way the world is which might make it unlikely. I think that is sad, when I think about the experiences and relationships I gained. Plus, we got to see a beautiful country. And we got some great stories. I will cherish that forever.”

For more great storytelling and analysis from our award-winning journalists, join the club at The42 Membership today. Click here to find out more >


About the author:

Maurice Brosnan

Read next:


This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
write a comment

    Leave a commentcancel