Time to feel the quality of inter-pros – Hughes
ON this day, February 23, in 1993, an Irish Independent report noted the comments of Leinster GAA secretary Michael Delaney, who urged the removal of the inter-provincial football and hurling series from the fixture list.
Delaney said: "The public lost interest in them years ago, and now I'm satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that most of the players have also."
The highly-respected Leinster official is one of a number of leading lights who have held that view on the former Railway Cup in the intervening 20 years, but despite much doom and gloom, the series still survives.
Tomorrow, under the M Donnelly sponsorship banner, some of the finest GAA players in the country, representing Leinster and Ulster, will contest the football final at Croke Park.
The commitment of the players under respective managers Joe Kernan and Pat Gilroy gives the lie to the notion that they are not interested in their provinces.
Monaghan's Darren Hughes will play for champions Ulster, and he has no doubt that the inter-provincial 'cap' is highly prized by players.
The 26-year-old defender got his first taste of action with his province last year as Kernan led the side to victory, and he's eager for more of the same tomorrow.
"It's a great privilege to represent your province, and when you see the calibre of player across the country that's totally committed to the cause, especially this year, I don't think there's any doubts in players' minds that they want to play in it," says Hughes.
"For example, Sean Cavanagh has come back from injury specially to play for us. Then you've got Bernard Brogan and many of the Dublin players involved.
"A couple of us were speaking about the intensity of last weekend's game against Munster. There were top-quality players all over the field and there's no doubt that both teams wanted to win."
Hughes also points to the depth and quality of the inter-provincial squads, with precious few opting out of involvement with the panels. Kildare, notably, had no players with Leinster, but Gilroy said after last Sunday's semi-final that any of the Lilywhite men he contacted had good reasons for not playing.
"If players didn't want to play, it's not hard to think of an excuse at this time of year because you have counties prioritising the National League, and then you've a lot of training during this break with your county," says Hughes.
"But when you see the quality and number of players of the year and All-Ireland winners committing to the cause, I don't think there's any doubts that it's a competition that must be kept going.
"It's a bit baffling at times as to why supporters don't go out and see it.
"Maybe it's understandable that they might not have any major cause to support their province, but I think for the quality of footballer that's on show, they're definitely missing out by not going to the matches."
Croke Park – an 80,000-capacity stadium – could look almost empty even if it was one-third full, but Hughes reckons it's worth playing the game at Headquarters.
"It's nice to play in the big games and have a big atmosphere, but a lot of the time players just play and the crowd doesn't have that much of an impact," he says.
"At the same time, 5,000 or 10,000 in Croke Park isn't going to look like much, but if you had 10,000 on Sunday it would be a decent enough crowd considering everything."
The All-Ireland junior football final between Ballinasloe and Kenmare Shamrocks is an attractive curtain-raiser at 2.0, and admission is €10 for adults and €5 for juveniles. The Leinster versus Ulster match starts at 3.45. Proceeds from the encounter will go to Our Lady's Children's Hospital, Crumlin.