Ireland have regained the Cormac McAnallen trophy with a four point win over Australia at Croke Park.
The Irish hung on in the face of intense pressure from a classy visiting Australian side to secure a narrow win in an entertaining International Rules clash in front of almost 40,000 fans on Saturday night.
In what was essentially a mirror image of last year’s encounter in Perth, it was Ireland who stormed into a huge lead, going eight ahead at the end of the first quarter before extending it to 20 points at half-time, 43-23.
Just as their manager, Joe Kernan, had promised, Ireland played traditional football superbly, kicking the ball with real class and getting the most from their star-studded attack, which was headed up by Bernard Brogan (13), Aidan O’Shea (15) and Conor McManus (17).
Once again, Ireland’s ability to score goals in the hybrid code proved the difference, with all three six-pointers coming in a scintillating first two quarters.
Aidan O’Shea struck an early goal to rock the Aussies and then the Mayo giant added his second before Conor McManus pinched a third from the penalty spot to leave the visitors facing a massive task in the second half.
However, opting to revert to a more direct approach, the Aussies got back into the game with overs from Leigh Montagna and David Mundy at the start of the third quarter. Nick Riewoldt, who had a superb contest with Rory O’Carroll on the edge of the square, chipped in with two more three-pointers and Australia had the gap back to 11.
The excellent Robbie Gray made it an eight-point game before McManus missed a gilt-edged chance to end the game as a contest, cracking a shot off the bar and over after 40-year-old Dustin Fletcher had made a stunning save from Brogan.
Ireland nearly paid the ultimate price when the livewire Eddie Betts fisted home the Aussies’ only goal with five minutes left, leaving just six points in it and all the momentum with the professional side. When Gray added another over, there was three points in it with three minutes to go.
Ireland, however, came out fighting in the closing stages and captain and Irish man of the match Brogan, who was outstanding in the first half and kicked four sublime overs, notched a match winning behind to seal the win for the hosts.
The final score, 56-52, translated to 3-11 to 1-13 in Irish currency, with the Aussies’ seven behinds (effectively wides) costing them dearly in the end.
Scorers for Ireland: Bernard Brogan 13 (0-4-1), Aidan O’Shea 15 (2-1-0), Conor McManus 17 (1-4-2), Diarmuid Connolly 4 (0-1-1), Darren Hughes 3 (0-1-0), Lee Keegan 3 (0-1-0), Paul Kerrigan 1 (0-0-1).
Scorers for Australia: Eddie Betts 14 (1-2-2), Nick Riewoldt 10 (0-3-1), Robbie Gray 10 (0-3-1), Luke Breust 4 (0-1-1), Jarryd Roughhead 3 (0-1-0), Leigh Montagna 3 (0-1-0), Andrew Gaff 3 (0-1-0), David Mundy 3 (0-1-0), Jake Stringer 1 (0-0-1), Tom Rockliff 1 (0-0-1).
IRELAND: Bernard Brogan (c) (Dublin), Lee Keegan (vc) (Mayo), Niall Morgan (gk) (Tyrone), Colm Begley (Laois), Gary Brennan (Clare), Eoin Cadogan (Cork), Mattie Donnelly (Tyrone), Eoin Doyle (Kildare), Peter Harte (Tyrone), Darren Hughes (Monaghan), Paul Kerrigan (Cork), Jack McCaffrey (Dublin), Ciaran McDonald (Tipperary), Phillip McMahon (Dublin), Conor McManus (Monaghan), Rory O’Carroll (Dublin), John O’Loughlin (Laois), Aidan O’Shea (Mayo), Michael Quinn (Longford), Donnchadh Walsh (Kerry), Diarmuid Connolly (Dublin), Paul Cribbin (Kildare), Paddy McBrearty (Donegal).
AUSTRALIA: Luke Hodge (c) (Hawthorn), Dustin Fletcher (gk) (Essendon), Hayden Ballantyne (Fremantle), Eddie Betts (Adelaide), Grant Birchall (Hawthorn), Luke Breust (Hawthorn), Patrick Dangerfield (Geelong), Andrew Gaff (West Coast), Brendon Goddard (Essendon), Robbie Gray (Port Adelaide), Dyson Heppell (Essendon), Sam Mitchell (Hawthorn), Leigh Montagna (St Kilda), David Mundy (Fremantle), Robert Murphy (Western Bulldogs), Nick Riewoldt (St Kilda), Tom Rockliff (Brisbane Lions), Jarryd Roughead (Hawthorn), Nick Smith (Sydney Swans), Jake Stringer (Western Bulldogs), Harry Taylor (Geelong), Easton Wood (Western Bulldogs).