Dan Sheridan/INPHO
this is war

'This fixture doesn't need fighting to attract big crowds - our job is to sell it for the next few years'

Ireland face Australia this evening and Joe Kernan believes this will be the toughest test yet.

THE ATMOSPHERE OVER the last few days has been amicable but Joe Kernan has made it very clear that the pleasantries are over and Ireland and Australia are ready to renew their fervent rivalry tonight.

Alastair Clarkson and his Australian squad have been given a hospitable welcome since their arrival in Dublin at the start of the week but now that the formalities have concluded, both sides are keen to get down to business.

This year’s one-Test series is down for decision at Croke Park later with Ireland determined to avenge their humbling defeat in Perth twelve months ago.

“You can respect your own worst enemy, but you are still going to go to battle with him,” Kernan said. ”They are lovely fellas and we had a lovely night on Thursday, (but) we wanted to get out of there as soon as possible. It’s not what we are used to.

Both teams returned to familiar surroundings on Friday as they fine-tuned their preparations at GAA HQ. Kernan has a strong squad at his disposal and the strength of both panels is an indication of how seriously the fixture is being taken.

The future of the International Rules Series has been uncertain for some time with previous games marred by on-field violence and fisticuffs.

With close to 30,000 tickets pre-sold, organisers are hoping for a healthy crowd and Kernan believes it’s the responsibility of both sides to produce an intense, but entertaining, contest to spike interest levels both at home and Down Under.

“This game is going 30 years; this is going to be the toughest test ever,” he said. “I’m not going back years ago when there was violence in it; it’s going to be the toughest man-to-man, end-to-end game.

Joe Kernan, Bernard Brogan with Luke Hodge and Alastair Clarkson Ireland manager Joe Kernan, captain Bernard Brogan with Australian captain Luke Hodge and head coach Alastair Clarkson. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“They feel they have to prove themselves and we feel we have to prove ourselves. Last year even when we lost the first two quarters we showed heart and fight to come back and give ourselves a chance.

“The atmosphere is good. The boys have gelled well together. It’s a happy camp, they have worked hard, but as you can see, getting closer to the game, the intensity is now rising. Australia mean business, and so do we.

“We certainly want to perform here, on the night that it is, the historic night that it is going to be, we want to perform for the home crowd.”

Ireland have spent the last week in camp together with former All-Ireland winning manager Kernan including players from 12 counties in his match day panel.

Recently crowned Footballer of the Year Jack McCaffrey is one of nine Allstars in the 23, which is captained by Dublin sharpshooter Bernard Brogan.

With all the individual components in place, Kernan knows they’ll all need to click into gear as a unit if the hosts are to edge what promises to be a fiercely contested encounter.

“Starting off, this game is going to be a high tempo early on, and we want to have everybody tuned in,” the former Armagh boss continued. “If it does take off at 100 mile per hour, that we are able to cope with that, to stay with them.

“The fact of the matter is they blew us out of the water last year, they will be wanting to do the same here again, and that’s what we have to be ready for.

“Every man has a job to do and if they are not doing that job, then they are whipped off. We need to be cute enough that we can rotate our players as well.

 ”To manage, you’re looking after all these people and trying to guide and reassure them and you have to have a game-plan to click into but to see them boys perform to the best of their abilities… Rory O’Carroll even in training has gone up in my estimation the way he does the simple things.

“The likes of Eoin Doyle and Mickey Quinn is a bundle of joy, he does all the right things in training. Bernard Brogan is the ultimate professional; he’s just an assassin in there if he gets the ball. You put all these thing together in that package.

“There’s no way that they shouldn’t excel. That’s all we’re wanting; we just want players to take the handcuffs off. That means hard work. We have to work harder than the Australians tomorrow to win this. You’re not going to win it on speed or skill; you have to work hard. That’s what bred into them and we have to come off here (the pitch) knowing that we emptied the tank.

Bernard Brogan and Luke Hodge Both sides have promised to entertain the crowd. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“If a player comes on and comes off after five minutes, he empties the tank for that five minutes. He doesn’t fucking just take his position and run every now and then.

“We have to be alert for the full four quarters or we’ll be in trouble. That’s new to us because we have had 12 weeks to get ready and these boys are ready all of the time.

“That’s the challenge and you want to be challenged as a manager and as a player and this is a big, big challenge.”

Kernan confirmed talks are already taking place about next year’s series with both managers admitting they’d be keen for another game to be added to the schedule.

The prospect of staging that fixture in New York has already been floated but for a concept which was only recently on borrowed time, the importance of enhancing its appeal remains paramount.

Bringing both codes further afield is seen as the next step but perhaps the product needs to refined before the series is expanded.

It wasn’t so long ago that crowds of 70,000 packed into Croke Park but the indiscipline shown by both sets of players had begun to undermine its existence – although the scuffles and fisticuffs have almost become part of the series’ identity.

“There have been big crowds and there hasn’t always been fighting here in Croke Park,” he insisted. “People want to know is it going to be competitive, is it going to be of high skill and will they be able to enjoy themselves.

“I hope that we perform to the best of our ability and we know the Australians, being professional, that when they come in they go to war.

“If we get it competitive I always think there will be a chance people will want to see it. What we are doing it is selling it for the next few years. That’s our job on Saturday.

Throw-in at Croke Park is 7pm with the game live on RTÉ2 television while fans abroad can stream the match live on GAAGO.

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