FIGHTING THE IRISH WITH MACHISMO
As published in the Herald Sun
It's truly mystifying that the AFL seems incapable of making
the international series against Ireland work. What was coach
Kevin Sheedy thinking when the usually sedate Western Bulldog,
Lindsay Gilbee, told the Irish press Australia would be looking
for revenge after the loss in the first match in Galway? A player
known for his skill rather than a capacity to physically intimidate,
Gilbee would never have been so provocative back home. What
is even more mystifying is that the threats came to fruition,
in front of 82 000 at Croke Park, Dublin. Wasn't there someone
in the Australian camp capable of telling Gilbee and his mates
to pull their heads in?
'It's what we learn as kids,' said an unrepentant Danyle Pearce
when asked about the tackle he used to floor Irishman Graham
Geraghty early in the game. What's courageous about grabbing
a bloke from behind, pinning his arms and ramming him head first
into the ground, I thought. Like the outlawed forearm coat-hanger
of yesteryear such tackles are now a badge of honour in the
AFL. Whereas the coat-hanger could break an opponent's nose
or cut his head, the modern tackle usually leaves the defenseless
player with a cracked collarbone and torn ligaments. Sometimes,
as we saw with Geraghty concussion also comes with the territory.
Why people applaud this kind of tackling is beyond me. There
is simply nothing brave about it at all.
That tackling is illegal in Gaelic football only compounds
the problems that beset international rules. That's why one
Irish player quipped 'If they want to box we'll box'. Someone
needs to explain to our players that from its formation in 1884
the Gaelic Football Association was synonymous with Irish independence
and Irish culture. That's why members were banned from playing
soccer and cricket; the derisively named 'garrison games' played
by the British army in the military garrisons that dotted occupied
Ireland. To make the game clearly different the rules for Gaelic
football personified freedom. Unlike soccer there's no off-side
constraint and players are free to run without being tackled.
It's a lightning fast game played by lithe athletes.
The hotel where the GAA was formed in Thurles, Tipperary.
And in keeping with the political origins of Gaelic football
the Irish players are amateurs. It's ridiculous to expect them
to manage the physical pressure marshaled by professional AFL
players. It's no wonder many Australians felt sorry for the
Irish players in the Dublin match. What's unfathomable is that
at a time when global games such as soccer threaten our indigenous
game and we genuinely need international matches our players
are given cart blanche to destroy them. Games against Ireland
are the only opportunity an AFL player will ever have to play
on the world stage. And as soccer grows they just might be a
trump card. Didn't someone bother to tell our blokes that?
There's clearly a cultural problem underpinning the current
crisis in international rules. I doubt any of our squad was
told that the ground where they played their first game - Pearse
Stadium - is named after a Gaelic scholar and soldier executed
by the British for his part in the 1916 Easter Rebellion in
Dublin. And I doubt Irish born JIM STYNES was given the opportunity
before the debacle at Croke Park to explain the significance
of this place in Irish history. It was here on 21 November 1920
during a football match that the British Army shot dead 14 innocent
people, two of them players, in retaliation for the assassination
of British agents that morning by the IRA. Gaelic football truly
is more than a game.
The wall where Padraig Pearse was executed in 1916 in
And is it impossible for our blokes to go out drinking without
starting a blue? Poor Brendan Fevola, forced to grab an innocent
barman in a headlock because of alleged racial taunts by Irish
spectators in Galway. For generations it's been the Irish that
have been subjected to racist Irish jokes that depict them as
stupid and addicted to the drink. And there was Fev defending
blacks that, until Michael Long and Nick Winmar took a stand,
had endured merciless racial abuse in the AFL. Fev's defense
sounded like something out of a comedy routine.
I don't expect Brendan Fevola to be a role model or Danyle
Pearce to pussyfoot around the Irish players. I'll bet that
if Barry Hall had been in the Irish side Lindsay Gilbee wouldn't
have been telling him to watch out. And what if it had been
Barry who was serving Fev drinks in Dublin? The old adage of
picking on someone your own size has never been more pertinent.
So here we are yet again trying to save the international rules
concept from the crude Aussie machismo that is an enduring feature
of the great Australian game. What a shame!
Phil Cleary played 205 games with Coburg in the VFA, was reported
five times and suspended twice.
This article was written before the AFL finally read the riot act to the bullyboys: