International Rules deserves a fair go
It is that time of year again, when Australia and Ireland clash in the International Rules Series, yet if the pessimists and cynics are to be believed, this year may be the last of the now ancient hybrid game.
First of all, if we are to accredit any credibility to the arguments of those that seem intent on destroying the only known concept of representative football currently known to AFL, then we must judge the merits of their arguments.
Writing in the Herald Sun, football journalist Mike Sheahan argues that the “death kneel” of the series approaches on account of the fact that only three of his ‘top 50′ post season players were named in the team.
He then insinuates that “sadly” only two players named in the team were named All Australian players and four have any prior senior level experience.
Granted though the Australian team may be small in experience, it is not an acceptable argument to suggest the series is on its last legs as a result of a supposed lack of star power.
Yet when we look at the Australian team, we see the names Green, Kelly, McKenzie, Zac Smith, Suckling, Swallow, Trengove, Vince and Ward; all regarded as some of the most skillful players in the game.
Their talents and abilities fit perfectly for the hybrid game. In fact, the Australian team appears to benefit from almost an entire side that has the natural talent and ability to excel in the hybrid sport: speed, skill, aggression and talent.
The idea that the series can only be taken seriously if the ‘best players’ participate is ludicrous. Prior to 2005, the Australian sides were almost exclusively made up of All Australian players.
Yet that did not assure victory in the series, in fact it was 2004 when the team featured the likes of Ball, Didak, Nathan Brown, Dal Santo, Embley, Hird, Kirk, McVeigh, Mal Michael and Nick Riewoldt that Australia was smashed by a then record aggregate margin.
In 2005, the decision was made to select players not on their selection in the All Australian team but rather on their abilities in the round game. The end result was that Australia smashed Ireland by a new record aggregate margin.
A so called ‘starless’ Australian side won that series in front of close to sell out crowds in Perth and Melbourne. This occurred only six years ago, at a time when the Series was a tried and true competition which had fit perfectly into the football calendar and become a regular feature.
If people like Sheahan are to be believed, then we must accept his argument that the series has lost relevance because he does not know six Australian players in this years squad or because he subscribes to the now dudded theory that the best Australian footballers would be better off playing the hybrid game.
None of this discounts the series and proves Sheahan as a person of expertise in this area. It is cheap slab of work that looks rushed and roughly put together that is supposed to add credibility to the argument that International Rules should be dead.
Sheahan concludes by offering us still a glimmer of hope: next year’s series should feature an improved Australian outfit considering ‘star’ players will be enticed by the prospect of a free overseas trip. There is just one key element of that statement that is incorrect, that being that the series is not scheduled to be played next year. It is meant to have a ‘break’ in 2012 before resuming in 2013 and 2014 in Ireland and Australia respectivley.
The truth of the matter appears to be that some people just like jumping on a sinking ship and sticking the boot in. Sheahan is a smart writer, but he has missed the mark on this occasion by commenting on a series which he know’s nothing about. The pessimistic belief held by another fellow Roar writer that the series is dying because Croke Park only had 61,000 fans in attendance at last year’s series; four years after a sell out crowd and that only 42,000 people bothered to turn up to the MCG on a miserable night in 2008. This isn’t credible.
If you want to see International Rules dead, then don’t watch it. Don’t comment on it, don’t mention it and by your theory it will die out of sheer embarrassment and irrelevance.
Perhaps what people don’t like about this series is it involves the AFL on an international scale, however small and obscure. Regardless, the series has consistently achieved healthy crowds and has often managed to result in some thrilling finishes.
While some may wish to deride the game, it appears to make a habit of maintaining relevance and worth. And perhaps under the roof of Etihad Stadium before a healthy crowd in perfect conditions on Friday Night it may prove once again why it has survived and at times, flourished over the the years.
Knock it at your peril. This is a series which deserves the chance of being received by a sporting public without prejudgment or assumption.
Those like me who will venture to one of the games this year may just see the harmlessness of playing for one’s country twice a year. Those who don’t won’t probably go.
But do the rest of us, and this series, a favor by watching something else.