The days of violent off-the-ball carnage that threatened to kill the International Rules Series a decade ago are long gone for an Australian ‘Dream Team’ intent on redeeming themselves after an embarrassing last tour of Ireland.
Australia’s assistant coach Tadhg Kennelly, the Irishman who with the Sydney Swans won the 2005 AFL premiership during a ten-year, 197-game career, has been at the forefront of reviving the flagging concept in recent years.
He’s urged the AFL to send over full-strength sides, having toyed with other ideas in recent years including a failed all-Indigenous team two years ago which led to a crushing series sweep to Ireland.
But Kennelly believes the violent aspect which once marred the series, highlighted by a particularly vicious pair of matches in 2006 which prompted Irish coach Sean Boylan to call for the series to be scrapped, are no chance of resurfacing at Croke Park this Saturday (Sunday 0600 AEDT).
Kennelly, who played for Ireland in the 2006 series, insists Australia will not back down from any challenge, but says recent rule changes will stop the worst of the behaviour in the one-off Test for the Cormac Macanallen Trophy.
“I think it went that way (with the concept nearly dying) because it got really out of hand physically. It crossed the line,” Kennelly told AAP on Wednesday.
“The rules have changed in both games and that’s almost gone from our game – that physical side of 15-20 years ago AFL is certainly not the same as it is today.
“Our boys will go at the ball physically and if they have an opportunity to tackle, they’ll tackle.
“But there’ll be none of this stuff off the ball that happened in the past.
“It doesn’t happen in AFL anymore and that’s the way the game will be played.
“Last year we had a really good, hard, genuine contest.
“There were opportunities to be physically hard and that’s what you did, and that’s what the Irish do in their game as well.”
Despite winning last year’s fixture in Perth, Australia have some Croke Park demons to rid themselves of – having lost 116-37 in 2013.
That fixture, which sealed a series sweep for Ireland, led to changes to the way the Australian team was picked and now All-Australian status is a pre-requisite for getting a call-up.
And so Alastair Clarkson has been able to pick is a star-studded Australian lineup which boasts three-time Hawthorn skipper Luke Hodge as captain and a leadership group of St Kilda legend Nick Riewoldt and the Western Bulldogs’ All-Australian captain Robert Murphy.
“I think this is the strongest Australian side you’ll see,” Kennelly said.
“I’m trying to say that to the people in Ireland – I’m telling them they’ve got to come out and see this team because it really is a genuine Dream Team.
“It’s the best of the best. These players are as good as it gets in our country.
“Last time an Australian team set foot in Croke Park they were embarrassed.
“I think the AFL people were embarrassed by the whole lot and I can guarantee you that won’t happen this Saturday.”