Kernan: We can get this competition on its feet
THE Railway Cup, or M Donnelly Interprovincial Football Series as it is now known, made an indelible impression on me as a callow youngster in the mid-1960s.
Was it the style and class of Down's great Sean O'Neill parading his talent on the green sward at Croke Park? No.
Was it the unerring place kicking of Galway and Connacht star Cyril Dunne? No.
Well, you may ask, what was it, then? The answer is: barely edible 'roast' spuds, charred roast beef and the piece de resistance: 'drinking custard.'
Yes, that was a St Patrick's Day to remember. The telly turned on, Michael O'Hehir's staccato tones barking out the commentary of the Railway Cup football final, and – woe to us – 'the Da' in charge of culinary duties.
The ma was laid up with 'flu. The da was operating in an unfamiliar environment which required organisation, precision, and timing.
No problem there, except for an absence of organisation, precision and timing.
Dinner – we didn't do 'lunch' in those days, that was for posh kids – was late, and we were hungry.
Eventually after much crashing and banging, and muttered curses, the da presented his offerings – burnt as it turned out in the case of the meat; undercooked potatoes, and tinned peas after a struggle to the death with the can and the tin-opener.
O'Hehir was still belting out the commentary on the Railway Cup final in the background as we did our best to chew out the main part of the meal.
And then came 'afters' – custard. Only not like we'd ever seen before.
Normally it was creamy and perfectly textured, but this was just pure liquid. It was yellow, it was custard but there the resemblance to the Ma's expertise ended.
We looked at the Da accusingly. He beamed a big smile: "It's a new invention kids – it's Drinking Custard!"
"Ah, drinking custard," we smiled as we bought his risky but persuasive sales pitch hook, line, and sinker.
Ever since then, a part of my consciousness has been attuned to the 'Railway Cup' through its various name changes, and date changes, and sponsorships and its fall from grace as a public attraction.
And I can report that if the 2013 final was custard, then it was the real thing – rich, creamy, and eminently satisfying to the palate.
Unfortunately, despite the presence of so many top Gaelic footballers in the Leinster v Ulster final clash at Headquarters, it may as well have been 'drinking custard' in terms of the insipid interest shown by the paying public.
The match was a cracker, with two committed teams straining every sinew in search of a winning result.
Skills and technical quality were displayed in abundance, and at the end Joe Kernan's Ulster retained their title.
The problem was: Who cared?
A crowd of less than 200 watched the stars parade their talent compared to around 2,500 who created a great atmosphere for the junior club final won by Ballinasloe.
Undaunted, the players got on with producing an open but competitive match.
The Bernard Brogan-inspired Leinster led at half-time by 0-9 to 1-4 but Ulster got a morale booster with a Jamie Clarke goal from a 20th-minute penalty.
Kernan's men upped their effort in the second half and goals by Monaghan's Conor McManus and Clarke – his second – pumped up their momentum.
Goalkeeper Pascal McConnell made three crucial blocks from goal attempts by Brogan (two) and sub Kevin McManamon, and even though they lost Derry's Chrissy McKaigue for a second yellow-card offence late in the match, the Northern side finished strongly.
Joe McMahon of Tyrone won the man of the match award but Peter Harte, Sean Canavan, McKaigue, Clarke, and Michael Murphy were strong contenders.
For Leinster, Bernard Brogan looked sharp and eager and contributed 11 points, eight from frees.
Brendan Murphy, Michael Quinn, Joe Sheridan, Michael Darragh Macauley, and Cian O'Sullivan were the pick of a hard-working Leinster outfit.
Managers Kernan and Gilroy – plus the players – are adamant the series is worth keeping. Kernan said: "With the backing of the GAA we're trying to turn this around.
"The quality of the football and the quality of the commitment is 100pc."
Scorers – Ulster: J Clarke 2-1 (1-0 pen); C McManus 1-2; S Cavanagh 0-3 (1f); P Harte, M Murphy, M McHugh, D Givney, M Penrose (f), A Kernan (f) 0-1 each. Leinster: B Brogan 0-11 (8f); J Sheridan 0-3; K McManamon, J Heslin, S Cluxton (45) 0-1 each
Ulster – P McConnell; C McKaigue, E McGee, C McKeever; A Kernan, D Hughes, P Harte; S Cavanagh, D Givney; M McHugh, M Penrose, J McMahon; J Clarke, K Niblock, C McManus. Subs: M Murphy for K Niblock (25); J McMahon for C McKeever (h-t); G McKiernan for D Givney (h-t); M Poland for M Penrose (59); K Hughes for M McHugh (65)
Leinster – S Cluxton; K Lillis, G Molloy, B Malone; M Quinn, G Brennan, A Flynn; M D Macauley, B Murphy; B Connor, R Barry, C O'Sullivan; B Brogan, J Sheridan, J Heslin. Subs: P Keenan for B Connor (h-t); R O'Carroll for K Lillis (41); K McManamon for R Barry (44); S McCormack for J Sheridan (54); J Stafford for B Murphy (61)
Ref – P Neilan (Roscommon)