IT is a happy coincidence when you have a game in need of teams and have teams in need of a game. Such is the case of International Rules football and Ireland’s provincial gaelic football sides.
I’ve been to a few of the international series games between Ireland and Australia and it is easy to see why the crowds increase year upon year both here and down under.
The game is a very attractive mix of physical contest and ball skills. The ‘all-in mills’ that blighted the early Compromise Rules games have largely disappeared and the contest to win on the scoreboard has taken over big-time.
Perhaps it a bit naive to say this but I think the International Rules game is superior to both Aussie Rules and gaelic football. Naive, perhaps, because the game isn’t played often enough for teams to refine the negative arts that now diminish the current crop of field sports.
The game has also features that might attract grumpy rugby and soccer supporters. The over technical nature of the rules in rugby mean that teams are more often in a contest with the referee than with each other. And in soccer, many people believe that the game will soon be declared a non-contact sport the way things are going. (While I’m on soccer – the fourth official should be able to cite players for cheating after matches and be able to use video evidence to prove it).
But the International Rules game is going to atrophy if it is not developed beyond the international sphere.
This is where the provincial teams could make a difference. In recent years Railway Cup matches have been played in front of crowds down into the hundreds even though the best footballers in Ireland are involved. (Note to GPA: so much for the idea that it’s the players who attract the crowds.)
So why not extend the International Rules games to the provincial teams?
How about a series where the four provinces and the four top teams in the AFL compete in an International Rules competition?
For example, the provinces to play each other here and then travel to Australia as a group to compete with the Aussie teams who will have also played each other. The tournament would only take a month to finish abroad and could wind up with an international test.
A two year experiment would show whether there is wider public interest in the sport and whether gaelic football should move in that direction, which isn’t really very far from the current rules. Now whether the Aussies are prepared to give up the oval ball is a whole different ball game.
Let’s have an Aussie Festival
The International Rules series returns to Dublin in October next year.
Why not put on an ‘Australia Week’ in Dublin culminating in the second test.
The Aussies have great films, musicians, theatre, comedians, writers and so on. Many are based in London and could decamp, along with the Aussie diaspora, to Dublin for the week.
Mighty crack, all round.