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Next stop for International Rules? USA Test

Players stood up through 'genuine pride' Chris Scott and Nat Fyfe front the media after winning the 2018 IRS
We felt it (the IR Series) may be the best we've ever seen between the two countries
Kevin Sheehan

THE AFL will push forward with plans for an International Rules game on the east coast of the United States after declaring this year's two-Test series against Ireland a success. 

Australia won the second Virgin Australia International Rules Test on Saturday night by three points, sweeping the Irish 2-0 in a competitive series that was celebrated by its participants.     

So competitive and thrilling was the second Test at Subiaco Oval, long-time servants of the hybrid game considered it the best International Rules match ever staged.   

While there are skeptics who question the legitimacy of the contests and their place on the sporting calendar, the League remains committed to and excited by the concept.   

New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and Boston are all being discussed as cities that could stage Tests, given their high Irish populations. 

The Gaelic Athletic Association is behind the idea, with the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia presenting one option. 

"We'd love to play a game in America … that may be the next step, but we’ll talk to the Irish and work it out from here," AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan told Channel Seven.

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"I know there's skeptics, but we're keen to keep it going and push it forward. I know the players are too … it's worth doing."

The All Australian selection criteria has returned some "lustre" to the format, McLachlan said, with star players Patrick Dangerfield, Nat Fyfe, Joel Selwood and Scott Pendlebury among this year's decorated squad.

 

They have been the game's biggest advocates, alongside coach Chris Scott, allowing the AFL to cross one of its biggest hurdles when staging representative football – player and club 'buy-in'.   

Having the cream of AFL talent naturally made for a more impressive spectacle this year, with Kevin Sheehan, the AFL's national and international talent manager, saying the quality of Saturday night's clash represented a high watermark for the hybrid code. 

"It's at a peak now. The trough was 2005-06," said Sheehan, who has been involved in the game for every series since 1987, initially as Australia's team manager and more recently as a key architect of the heavily-negotiated rules.   

"Talking to Gerard Healy and others who have watched a lot of it and played a lot, we felt it may be the best we've ever seen between the two countries. 

"There have been some great ones over the years, but this may have been the best, where every element was showcased."

Nat Fyfe steps up to receive the Jim Stynes Medal in front of his teammates. Picture: AFL Photos

Attracting the game's best coaches has also helped the hybrid game, with players keen to work under rival coaches for their own professional benefit.

Fremantle coach Ross Lyon and North Melbourne coach Brad Scott were assistants to Chris Scott in this year's series, while players have also had the opportunity to work with rival physio staff.  

Such was the enthusiasm for the game from this year's squad, goalkeeper Brendon Goddard requested on behalf of the group that they be considered as first picked for the next series. 

Fyfe, who was awarded the Jim Stynes Medal as the player of the series said part of the attraction was working with rivals for a common cause.

"This is the only chance we get to represent our country and that's something not to be taken lightly," the Dockers captain said.   

 

"To be able to bond and play with some of the best players, and hear from some other coaches from around the competition … is an opportunity that I'd jump at again."  

McLachlan said the International Rules Series breaks even financially, but profits were not the motivation for staging the matches.  

After a one-year hiatus in 2016, the AFL and GAA committed to six future Tests, believing one-off clashes in 2014 and 2015 had proven there was an appetite for the series.