THE Railway Cup could be a great crowd-puller if only the GAA promoted it properly, according to several of the country's top footballers.
Armagh's Aaron Kernan, Meath's Graham Reilly and Donegal's Eamon McGee were among those who were scathing yesterday of the way the GAA promoted last weekend's M Donnelly inter-provincial football semi-finals, which attracted some of the lowest attendances in the competition's history.
Only around 100 people attended Connacht's 3-19 to 2-16 defeat of Munster in Tuam while a paltry 294 went to Navan to see Ulster beat Leinster in an even more high-scoring clash (2-26 to 3-21).
Kernan turned to social media yesterday to drum up support for the competition and his preference is for the inter-pros to be played in conjunction with All-Ireland final weekends.
"I'm not a big American Football fan but I understand that the NFL has an All Stars game in conjunction with the Super Bowl and surely we should be thinking that way," said Kernan, whose father Joe managed Ulster last weekend.
"All-Ireland weekend has a special buzz about it and it's largely a closed weekend for everything, including club games, except for those directly involved.
"We've already seen the interest that the All-Ireland 7s have attracted, with intermediate and junior sections now.
"So why not play the inter-provincial semi-finals on the Friday night, and the final on the Saturday, and then you'd have the All-Ireland on the Sunday and it would be a huge festival of football or hurling on those weekends.
"I remember playing in the 2005 Railway Cup final in Parnell Park on a Saturday night in November and it attracted between 4,000 and 5,000," Kernan added. "There has to be loads of ways to promote the inter-provincials, mine is just one idea but, on Twitter, 99pc of the responses were extremely positive.
"One argument against it was that clubs wouldn't release players at that stage of the season but they already release players to International Rules training at that time," he pointed out.
"I've also heard the criticism that inter-pros are only glorified challenge matches," he acknowledged. "But the ferocity of the tackles, even in the first few minutes last weekend, was unbelievable. There were 82 points scored in two games and the players were out on their feet at the end. You don't get that in challenge games.
"I've won three Railway Cup medals and they mean an awful lot to me," said the Crossmaglen star, currently recovering from a torn Achilles, who hopes to be back in inter-county action by mid-March.
"The feedback I received on Twitter shows that players want this competition, that it means an awful lot to them, but the GAA has got to find the right time and marketing for it."
Meath's Graham Reilly, who played for Leinster against Ulster last weekend, is another who believes that the GAA needs to promote the competition properly, starting with finding the right date for it.
"There were club league games in Meath at 2.30 last Sunday and we were playing in Navan at 2.0," he pointed out. "They're just sticking it into the three-week gap in the National League, the timing is all wrong.
"Players want the competition, you only had to look at the calibre of players who took part last weekend.
"It involved the best players in the country and the game I played in had five goals and 47 points and went to extra-time. It was one of the best games of football that you're likely to see this year," he said.
"It was a disgrace to see only 100-200 people turn up to see it and Croke Park has to do more to promote it."
Donegal's Eamon McGee was another who outlined how much he enjoyed playing for his province last weekend, saying "headquarters should be ashamed at their promotion of Railway Cup".
* Following a pitch inspection at Brewster Park yesterday, the venue for tomorrow night's Power NI Dr McKenna Cup final (8.0) between Cavan and Tyrone has been switched to the Athletic Grounds in Armagh.