Australia expect Ireland to come out “fired up” in a historic day when the nations clash in the International Rules Series.
The one-off Test match will be played on the 95th anniversary of the tragic events of Bloody Sunday, when 14 civilians were murdered by British forces at Croke Park during a Gaelic football clash in retaliation for the assassination of a gang of undercover British agents the night before.
The Australian team are well informed about the history which Croke Park carries, having been told of the Bloody Sunday anniversary by coach Alastair Clarkson before arriving in Dublin, and are aware of the motivation it will provide the home side.
And on Wednesday Australia’s Irish-born assistant coach Tadhg Kennelly gave an emotional speech to the team to highlight the passion which will be on display on Saturday (Sunday 0600 AEDT).
“He had a tear in his eye speaking there. We know how passionate the Irish are,” said veteran Australian champion Dustin Fletcher, who will play the last game of his decorated, 23-year career on Saturday.
“We expect the Irish to be fired up and come out all guns blazing. We know that. But we’re really respectful of what happened.
“Obviously Croke Park is so much more than a football stadium.
“For the people in Ireland and what’s happened over the years, everyone knows about it and everyone really loves Croke Park.”
Australia are the current holders of the Cormac Macanallen Trophy, having regained the title with a 10-point win in Perth last year, but Kennelly warned they faced a fierce fight to retain it in front of 80,000 parochial fans.
“The GAA fabric and the GAA as a sporting organisation is what our society is about,” Kennelly told AAP.
“A lot of it comes down to 800 years of being oppressed by the English and the latter parts of the 1800s when the Irish started standing up for who they are as an identity and a sporting identity and formed the GAA.”
That passion and hatred has filtered down for generations and will embolden the Irish team, Kennelly warned.
“The Irish are very passionate people and are passionate about wearing their jersey, the country jersey,” he said.
“It’s not an opportunity they get often, unless they’re playing International Rules.
“That sense of history is very much instilled in the Irish blood and where you come from and who you are and who you’re representing.”
Kennelly represented Ireland six times while also winning an AFL premiership with Sydney and admits he will have mixed emotions when the anthems ring out on Saturday.
But he’s been tasked with sharpening Australia’s skills in the hybrid game, and will only leave satisfied if coach Alastair Clarkson and captain Luke Hodge hold the trophy aloft at the end of the night.
“I’m there to win the game for Australia, I’m part of the Australian team and Australia has been a big part of my life,” he said.
“I’m sure we’ll win the game and there will be a bit of sadness in my heart, but I’m there as a professional to win the game of football.”