Over the past few weekends there has been much made of the huge decline in spectator interest in the Railway Cup.
Only the greying generation can really remember and appreciate the days when the Railway Cup, now re-branded and known as the M Donnelly Interprovincial series carried any real weight within GAA circles.
It has limped along now for the past two decades like a seriously ill patient on a life support machine with no senior authority figure in the GAA fully prepared to make the big call and unplug the power.
No GAA president wants to be one that has the accusation of terminating the Railway Cups levelled at him during his watch. We love new competitions in the GAA but find it hard to let go of those that have perhaps run their course.
However, it is still quite likely that such a course of action will be taken in the near future. This inter-provincial competition appears to be on its last legs and that is one of the key reasons why John O’Mahony and his Connacht players will be extremely keen to defeat Munster this Saturday in Portlaoise at 7.45pm and win the title for the first time since 1969.
If the competition is culled, nobody west of the Shannon would like to be reminded of the fact that they could not win a competition that has only four participants for the guts of forty years.
It is incomprehensible how this province has not managed to fall over the end line and win the bloody thing at some stage over the past four decades. How difficult is it for a panel of players to win two games in a row?
However based on last Saturday’s highly impressive performance in Kiltoom when Connacht beat Leinster by 2-15 to 0-11, it looks a distinct possibility that this famine at interprovincial foot-balling level is likely to be smashed this weekend.
Last Saturday’s starting 15 included eight Mayo players, three from Galway, two Leitrim lads, one from Roscommon, and Charlie Harrisson at corner back was Sligo’s lone musketeer.
Two big names that are obviously unavailable to O’Mahony for this weekend are Galway’s Micheal Meehan and Finian Hanley who are out in Oz with the International Rules squad.
Two first half goals last weekend from Mayo’s Andy Moran and Padraig Joyce were the crucial scores and when the Westerners led by 2-07 to 0-4 at half time, they were unlikely to be caught. Alan Dillon and Declan Maxwell also hit some good scores and Conor Mortimer was lively in the corner.
Team selector and triple all-star Kevin Walsh is hoping Connacht can break their duck this Saturday. “This province has got to a lot of finals in the past 38 years, however we have not been capable of finishing off the job, however we hope to do so this time. None of us involved this weekend have a Railway Cup medal, so we have a lot to play for.”
Munster will line out without most of their Kerry players between international rules commitments and the Kerry county championship which leaves them without the likes of Declan O’ Sullivan, Kieran Donaghy, Tommy Walsh and Aidan O’Mahony and those absences are to Connacht’s advantage.
Walsh has been very impressed with the commitment shown by the Connacht panel to-date.
“The team is backboned by Mayo players who were unfortunate to lose to Tyrone in this year’s championship, and we all know what Tyrone went on to achieve. We have nothing to fear in facing Munster. Although their midfield combination of Nicholas Murphy [Cork]and John Galvin [Limerick] is a formidable one. We will probably have a combination of Michael Finneran, Pat Harte and Ronan McGarrity in that area and if we break even around there, we have the forwards to do damage inside.”
Walsh has strong views on the competition itself – and he believes that the competition has been let down by the GAA administrators.
“If it was given a permanent place in the calendar, for example mid-December when all players were available, it would attract a lot of spectator support. If it was played at that time of year, the counties and clubs would be on a break, college players would be available and it would not be clashing with the International rules series. Most of the players involved would hate to see the competition dying off, and if it was given a chance it could improve massively. It needs the GAA to give it a chance, to breathe some oxygen into it and try and be a bit creative and proactive as regards the marketing of the competition. If that happened it could attract a lot of public interest.”.
That is for another day. However, a more pressing objective is to defeat Munster in Portlaoise this Saturday evening and win the competition for the first time since St Patrick’s day in 1969 when Connacht beat Munster on a score-line of 1-12 to 0-6.