Picture: AFL Media
Ireland and Papua New Guinea stood facing each other on the MCG, Australia’s most iconic sports stadium and the home of AFL, minutes before the bounce of the most important match of any of the players’ careers.
The tension in the air could be sliced with a butter knife as both teams received the final motivational speech from their respective coaches and ran onto the ground for what had been hailed as the most evenly matched grand final in International Cup history.
The booming MCG siren sounded and the match was underway. In the early minutes of the game, the ball was up one teams end as much as the others as both team’s defence stood up and effectively rebounded the ball.
Ireland drew first blood at the nine minute mark with Mick Finn kicking the first goal. He followed this with the second goal of the match at the twelve minute mark, and then the third at sixteen minutes.
The ascendency seemed to be entirely with Ireland until John Ikupu wove his way through traffic, appearing to have the ball on a string, and drove a long pass into the hands of Jeconiah Peni seconds before the siren sounded.
A thumping kick from the 50 metre arch brought PNG back into the contest as the ball sailed over the umpires head for a goal.
The contest was fierce from the get go in the second term with all the play taking place in PNG’s scoring half. The Irish defence did all they could but PNG were looking the more likely to score.
Mick Finn was moved to full back in an attempt to stem the flow late in the quarter and took a few strong marks on the last line of defence. After an amazing first half showcasing skills worthy of a game on the MCG, Ireland were leaders by less than a goal.
It appeared from the start of the third quarter that there was a definite scoring end and as both teams had taken advantage of it in previous quarters, Ireland was again gaining the momentum as they kicked towards it.
John O’Regan opened proceedings with a sneak goal after playing on quickly following his mark in the goal square.
The size of the Irish forwards, particularly Padraig Lucey, was proving to be troublesome for the undersized PNG defenders. Their kicking let them down however as several shots at goal went through for a point or out of bounds on the full. PNG made them pay when a rare entry into their forward line landed the ball in the hands of Emmanuel Tupia who snapped a miracle goal over his shoulder.
PNG surged forward in the second half of the third quarter, again showing that they could match it with the reigning champions. A final shot after the siren for PNG registered no score and Ireland held on to a three point lead heading into the last quarter of the International Cup.
With the growing crowd now on the edge of their seats, the final quarter got under way. Jeconiah Peni kicked the first goal putting PNG ahead for the first time in the match. All the momentum seemed to be with the ‘Mozzies’ as they were referred to by the crowd.
Mick Finn steadied the ship straight away with a strong pack mark and his fourth goal to put the Europeans back in front but the momentum and the crowd remained on PNG’s side.
The ball was rebounded out of PNG’s forward line on numerous occasions but rarely entered Ireland’s forward fifty. When it did, the height of the Irish forwards remained to be PNG’s major challenge whilst the Irish just didn’t make them pay on the scoreboard.
The high flying Ferdinand Musi took the mark of the tournament thirteen minutes into the final quarter and followed up with a goal to put his team three points ahead again.
Brendan Beno kicked the Mozzies further ahead after being awarded a free kick for a push in the back right on the last line of defence.
With only minutes left in the game, Padraig Lucey marked and goaled, his first for the match after many attempts but it was all too little too late for the Irish as they went down to PNG 6.9.45 to 6.6.42.
PNG: 1.2 3.4 3.8 6.9 (45)
Ireland: 3.2 3.4 4.5 6.6 (42)
PNG: Beno 2, Ikupu, Gideon, So-ong, Agita
Ireland: Finn 4, Henry, Lucey
PNG: Ikupu, Beno, Simon, Guvuri, Peni
Ireland: Finn, Farrell, P. O’Halloran, O’Regan, Bartley
Canada Northern Lights: 0.1 1.7 3.8 5.8 (38)
Ireland: 0.0 0.0 1.0 2.0 (12)
Canada Northern Lights: Heil 2, Bodashefski 2, Legault
Ireland: Corrigan, Keatley
Canada Northern Lights: Legault, Heil, Perry, Dickenson, Annicchiarico, Robertson
Ireland: Kelly, Behan, McKay, McCann, Corrigan, Hazley
IC14 final rankings
1. Papua New Guinea
3. New Zealnd
4. South Africa
9. Great Britain
1. Canada Northern lights
3. USA Freedom
4. Canada Midnight Suns
7. USA Liberty