IRELAND last night won the international rules series, and with it the Cormac McAnallen Cup, with a four-point win over Australia at the MCG.
The Irish amateurs jubilantly hugged, jumped and chanted in scenes of joy reminiscent of those seen at the ground five weeks ago on grand final day. The Irish were too skilful with the round ball for the professional AFL players, winning 4.8.9 (57) to 3.8.11 (53).
Kade Simpson was awarded the Jim Stynes Medal as Australia’s player of the tournament, while Graham Canty was Ireland’s best for the series.
The game was alive to the final moments, courtesy of a final-quarter blitz from Drew Petrie, who kicked two overs early in the term before kicking an under into the back of the net to bring the margin to only four points with less than a minute to play. The Irish managed to hold on for victory.
The crowd of 42,823 who watched the match, played on a wet and blustery night, saw Australia concede the lead early, and, as in the first game in Perth last week, find the challenge of making a comeback too difficult.
As with last week, the Australians looked the better team late in the game, and, again as with last week, they were left agonisingly close. Australia had needed only a win to retain the trophy on scoring aggregate.
Ireland’s "centre half-forward", captain Sean Cavanagh, delivered his side the half-time lead that would eventually prove decisive. With a body size to match his instinct, Cavanagh has the pace to find space and the sharp mind to offer the ball by hand or foot. He had three unders in the first quarter, which essentially, at that point, kept Ireland in the contest.
Australia began brightly when Shaun Burgoyne marked a Brent Harvey clearance from the first ball-up. Daniel Wells slipped clear to add two more overs as the Australians led.
The AFL team remained disciplined to its commitment to attempt only shots over the goal and abandon lofty thoughts of the net. It was playing with an improved run and purpose bred of a greater familiarity with the round ball. But it would not last, the second term belonging to Ireland as it led by 15 points at half-time.
In the third term, Australia looked likely to drag the game back in its favour, bringing a lead that had again extended to 18 points back to six when it put the ball into the back of the net for its first under of the series.
In the event, that goal will be awarded to Marc Murphy for a back scoop of the ball as the Australians tried, by virtue of numbers thrown at the contest, to smuggle it through.
Fortune appeared to be shifting Australia’s way when goalkeeper Michael Firrito impressively got a hand on a ball to deflect a certain under.
Irishman Benny Coulter unwound those promises with an under moments later to deflate the Australians’ hopes.
But the Australians remained alive when Petrie kicked two overs in a minute at the start of the final term. When Burgoyne drove a flat punt into the Irish net, the home side was charging. But its run was halted again by Coulter, who tapped a ball past Firrito and into the net to return the lead to 10 points. Petrie’s under on the 18-minute mark brought the margin to four but it was all the Australians could do as Ireland wound down the clock.
Australia’s coach, Mick Malthouse, said he was bitterly disappointed but "very, very proud" of his men, who held back instincts from Australian football for the betterment of this game.
Malthouse said the coaches had made it clear to the players what was at stake if there was misbehaviour in the series.