On the eve of the first international rules Test, All Stars assistant coach Tadhg Kennelly has hit back at suggestions the AFL hasn’t taken the series seriously by sending an all-indigenous team to Ireland.
Some critics have argued the AFL should have selected the best players from across the league rather than the Aboriginal All Stars.
But former Gaelic footballer turned premiership player Kennelly dismisses such talk.
“We are here to win the series,” the code-hopper told AAP en route to Cavan ahead of Saturday night’s first Test.
“I think it’s a great initiative that the AFL have done and it’s got nothing to do with them not taking the series seriously.
“If the AFL didn’t want to be part of the series they wouldn’t be played – simple as that. You wouldn’t send a team.”
The AFL’s head of diversity, Jason Mifsud, is much more blunt.
“In part it’s offensive to be suggesting we are not taking it seriously by sending an all-indigenous team,” he told AAP on Wednesday.
“On a number of measures this team would stack up against previous international teams.”
Mifsud said the format celebrated the outstanding contribution of indigenous players.
Twenty years ago there were 30 Aboriginal footballers in the competition and now there are 80.
Writing in the Irish Examiner this week John Fogarty stated: “Don’t think for a second that the team Ireland are facing … are Australia.”
“Professionals they may be but just three of the 21-man squad have previous international rules experience,” the journalist wrote.
The All Stars will be the first all-indigenous team to represent an Australian sporting code at senior level overseas since the first cricket team toured England more than 150 years ago.
Vice-captain Aaron Davey says that fact makes the series “very special”.
“This is the highlight of my career,” the Melbourne small forward who retired at the end of the 2013 season told AAP.
“A lot of people might look at it negatively but I think it’s great for the game itself. All the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander players bring so much to the game.”
Davey said Saturday night would see two great cultures going head-to-head.
But he stressed: “We are here to win. We are not here just to come over and compete. Come Saturday we’ll put it all aside and hopefully come away with the win.”
Before both the Cavan match and the second Test in Dublin the following Saturday, Australia will perform a war cry that was first developed by young indigenous players in 2009.
Davey says it’s about intimidating the opposition but also sharing culture.
“It’s all about pride,” he said.
“But it’s also going to be great for the Irish people and the spectators to really experience our culture and see the war cry.”