Australia have drawn first blood in the International Rules Series, with a blistering third quarter proving the difference as the hosts were made to fight hard to shake off a plucky Ireland in recording a 10-point victory.
Six-pointers from best on ground Nat Fyfe and Luke Shuey proved the difference in the end, with the game also marked by a few spot-fires as both teams gave it their all in front of an entertained crowd at the Adelaide Oval.
But the win has been soured, at least for Collingwood fans, with captain Scott Pendlebury set to miss the second Test of the series, and potentially the start of pre-season training as well, with a broken finger sustained in the second term.
Fyfe was a class above all day, bringing Australia back into the contest after Ireland had broken clear early in the second term with a pair of overs, before producing the play of the day in the third: a curling strike that beat Irish keeper Niall Morgan before rebounding off the post for the hosts’ first goal.
Half-back stalwarts Michael Hibberd and Kade Simpson were almost as influential, with the latter bringing his own ball as he racked up 37 touches with customary composure, while Patrick Dangerfield, Eddie Betts and Chad Wingard were all dangerous with ball in hand.
But defender Robbie Tarrant was just as influential, taking Irish star Michael Murphy, who threatened to break the game open with two first-quarter overs, effectively out of the match for the rest of the game.
For the Irish, it was Conor McManus and then daylight, as the star forward booted seven overs for the match, while Murphy was impressive with two overs and a six-pointer in the first quarter and a bit before being nullified by Tarrant, finishing with two more overs in the final term.
As the match ebbed and flowed in a pulsating first half, where twice the Irish dominated the start of the quarter before the Australians took over the longer it went on, the only question was whether the Australians’ dominance in the time in possession stakes – they finished the half with almost double the visitors’ disposals – would be enough to outweigh Ireland’s greater quality in moving it forward.
And that question was answered in emphatic fashion as Ireland began to tire early in the second half, with Fyfe, Dangerfield and the silky Dayne Zorko running amok in midfield, and Ben Brown and Eddie Betts dangerous in front.
It was the Aussies’ turn to tire in the final quarter as Ireland, led by the ultra-impressive McManus, kept on coming, before a clever tap-in on the goal line from Luke Shuey finally put the result to bed.
Nevertheless, with the series to be decided on the points aggregate across the two matches, Ireland’s ability to score a pair of overs late to reduce the margin from 17 to 10 points by the final siren could prove crucial when the two teams head to Perth next week.