AUSTRALIA has one hand on reclaiming the Cormac McAnallen Trophy after a gripping 10-point victory against Ireland in the first Test of the Virgin Australia International Rules Series at Adelaide Oval on Sunday.
The hosts had to withstand a gallant fightback from the Irish in the last quarter to hang on 2.13.12 (63) to 1.13.8 (53).
Both sides were counting the cost, with Collingwood captain Scott Pendlebury (finger) and Ireland and Gold Coast star Pearce Hanley (hand) failing to finish the game.
Fremantle skipper Nat Fyfe was Australia's most dangerous forward, kicking a goal and three overs, while rookie goalkeeper Brendon Goddard was outstanding in his first game donning the gloves.
Australia coach Chris Scott lauded his side for sticking to its offensive mindset despite failing behind early.
"We wanted to play an attacking brand of football," Scott said.
"We didn't have any intention of sitting back and trying to defend our back half, which was one way to go, given the Irish kick the ball so well.
"We felt we had an obligation to play an offensive style of game, which means you need to play defence that complements it as well.
"We did take a few risks, maybe a few too many early in the game, which gave the Irish some chances deep in their attack, but I felt those two parts of the game complemented each other well."
Is this the moment Scott Pendlebury injured his finger? Picture: Getty Images
Ireland vice-captain Conor McManus was simply unstoppable, booting a game-high seven overs, while Michael Murphy scored a goal and four overs.
Losing by just 10 points gave Ireland coach Joe Kernan hope his side can overcome the deficit and retain the trophy in Perth.
"With the week that we've had with the sickness and the injury, I'm very proud of the players, the way they finished the game," Kernan said.
"Unlucky that we might have been a wee bit closer, we had a couple of chances late on and a goal would have helped us.
"But it is what it is, 10 points, the game's not over."
Geelong skipper Joel Selwood was a scratching from the Australian side with an ankle injury, while Ireland were without forwards Niall Murphy (Sligo) and Enda Smith (Roscommon).
Selwood will be available for the second Test at Perth's Domain Stadium next Saturday night.
Trailing by 10 points early in the second quarter, Australia booted four overs in a row to take a one-point advantage into half-time - 0.7.7 (28) to 1.6.3 (27).
Goddard made a strong fist of his first time with the gloves.
The Essendon veteran charged out of his goals to stop a certain Ireland goal in the third quarter and played a sweeper's role at the back.
The most spectacular play of the game came when Fyfe rocketed with the ball past the outstretched hand of Irish 'keeper Niall Morgan and into the back of the net, with the help of the left-hand goal post.
Australia held a handy 15-point lead at the final change, but three straight overs to Murphy, McManus and Paul Geaney closed the gap to just seven points.
But West Coast midfielder Luke Shuey sealed the game with a tap-in for a goal in the fourth quarter, on the same ground where he ended Port Adelaide's season in an epic extra-time elimination final in September.
Chad Wingard was prominent early in the game, kicking two overs in the opening quarter and taking a spectacular one-handed grab.
It was the first clash between the two countries since 2015, when Ireland won a one-off clash in Dublin.
AUSTRALIA 0.3.5 0.7.7 1.12.8 2.13.12 (63)
IRELAND 0.4.3 1.6.3 1.8.5 1.13.8 (53)
Australia: Fyfe, Shuey
Australia: Fyfe 3, Wingard 2, Brown 2, Dangerfield, Zorko, Simpson, Betts, Ryder
Ireland: McManus 7, M.Murphy 4, Sweeney, Geaney
Australia: Fyfe, Goddard, Dangerfield, Wingard, Simpson, Shuey
Ireland: McManus, M. Murphy, Tuohy, O'Shea
Australia: Pendlebury (finger)
Referees: Matt Stevic (Australia), Maurice Deegan (Ireland)
Official crowd: 25,502 at Adelaide Oval