Friday 28 July 2017

Long-suffering interpros should be either treated properly or put out of their misery

Action from the halcyon days of the Railway Cup when crowds flocked to Croke Park – here to see the 1965 football semi-final between Ulster and Munster. Picture credit; Connolly Collection/Sportsfile
Action from the halcyon days of the Railway Cup when crowds flocked to Croke Park – here to see the 1965 football semi-final between Ulster and Munster. Picture credit; Connolly Collection/Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Kill or cure but don't leave them on life support while secretly hoping there's a power failure and nobody has to take responsibility for their demise.

Fixing the interprovincial championships for the second last weekend before Christmas tells you all you need to know about the official attitude towards competitions whose best days were over 60 years ago when an attendance of almost 50,000 saw Leinster complete a double over Connacht (football) and Munster (hurling) in the 1954 finals.

The big St Patrick's Day crowds in Croke Park continued in the early 1960s, before slipping into irreversible decline in the second half of that decade. By the mid-1970s, they were less than 10,000 and had slumped to 3,000 a decade later. Apart from an occasional spike, they have never recovered.

Empty stands and terraces have become the standard picture in newspapers on the morning after finals, accompanied by calls for their abolition of the interpros due to lack of public interest.

If similar criteria applied to League of Ireland soccer, it would have been abandoned a long time ago. Still, the argument persists in the GAA that if the public have abandoned the interpros, it's pointless playing them. Yet, when players are polled, they invariably back the retention of competitions that were launched as a means of broadening the representative outlet in the 1920s.

Of course, supporting the interpros in theory is one thing but history shows that many players make themselves unavailable when competition time arrives. That's again the case this year but then two weeks before Christmas can hardly be described as an attractive time slot for players or public. In fact, it could scarcely be more unsuitable.

The standard response from the Central Competitions Control Committee(CCCC) to criticism of the timing is to call for suggestions on alternative dates.

Crowded

They contend that the fixtures' schedule is so crowded that the interpros just can't be fitted in until the tail end of the season.

That's not accurate. Granted, there are no obvious gaps in the calendar up to mid-October but what's wrong with the last weekend in that month or the first weekend in November?

Provincial club championships dominate the schedules in those weeks but hundreds of inter-county players are not involved in them, making it feasible to field powerful interpro teams. Yet, for some reason, the CCCC has opted for December dates, which makes no sense.

Connacht football manager John Tobin proposes playing the interpros on the Friday/Saturday prior to the All-Ireland finals. Players gravitate towards Dublin for All-Ireland weekend and Tobin believes that integrating the interpros into the occasion is worth a try, although he accepts that it looks as if the competitions 'are in the twilight of their existence'.

Whatever about the personal views of CCCC members, the reality is that many senior GAA figures, including director-general Páraic Duffy, have long held the opinion that the interpros should be discarded altogether.

Apart from Ulster, most of the provincial leaders share that view, arguing that the competitions have run their course and are no more than an irrelevant and expensive irritant.

Ironically, any attempt to interfere with other provincial matters usually meets with feisty resistance from the Leinster/Ulster/Munster/Connacht power bases, yet competitions bearing the four banners have become increasingly friendless in the corridors of power.

Several attempts have been made to wipe the interpros from the fixtures calendar, only to be rejected by Central Council. So here's where it's at: Central Council insist on maintaining the interpros, CCCC fix them for December and the public largely ignore them. It's a depressing mixture.

Even those who have long supported the retention of the interpros - and I'm among them - are now beginning to believe that they are a lost cause.

Explanation

Central Council are largely responsible for that. Are they happy to see them played in mid-December? Surely not.

Have they sought an explanation from CCCC why dates in late October/early November are not deemed more suitable. And if not, why not?

The death of Ulster Council secretary Danny Murphy, a long-time and dedicated supporter of the interpros, has interfered with this weekend's semi-finals, leaving CCCC faced with the dilemma as to when to play the finals.

That comes a year after the interpros were abandoned altogether due to bad weather. That's what happens when games are fixed for a period that is supposed to be in the closed season.

Irish Independent

Promoted articles

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport