Tuesday 24 April 2018

Steely Boylan stands firm as inter-pros prevail in stand-off

Leinster football manager Sean Boylan in relaxed mood at the M. Donnelly Interprovincial Series team announcement at Croke Park yesterday
Leinster football manager Sean Boylan in relaxed mood at the M. Donnelly Interprovincial Series team announcement at Croke Park yesterday

CLiona Foley

HE single-handedly turned Meath into a Gaelic football super-power in the '90s and Sean Boylan showed he's lost none of his steely tenacity when winning an embarrassing fixtures stand-off in Croke Park yesterday.

The little Royal general, who led three different Meath sides to All-Ireland glory between 1987 and 1999, was appointed to manage the Leinster footballers this year and came to HQ yesterday to take part in a routine press conference to launch Sunday's Martin Donnelly inter-provincial semi-finals.

But five minutes after he'd arrived, word filtered through that the Dublin versus Mayo Allianz League game, abandoned last weekend because of fog, had been refixed for Castlebar on Saturday afternoon, and things suddenly took a dramatic turn.


With 10 Dublin players in Boylan's Leinster squad, and their first game against Munster in Parnell Park on Sunday, that NFL refixture would have substantially weakened his team.

It also looked set to completely undermine the inter-provincial series, which has just been restored after a two-year absence and had been promised its own stand-alone date this year.

Boylan quickly insisted that the inter-pro game had precedence and he should get unfettered access to all his players.

While he would not actually use the word afterwards, it is clear that he threatened to quit, and his defiant stance quickly forced the Central Competitions Control Committee (CCCC) to do an abrupt U-turn, in some farcical circumstances.

While the matter was being settled in a boardroom downstairs, Boylan, Leinster hurling manager Joe Dooley and several top Leinster officials, who had already posed for launch photographs, waited in the corridor outside the appointed press conference in the Hogan Stand, unable to enter until they knew what was happening.

Waiting inside was long-time inter-provincial supporter and sponsor Donnelly, who did some interviews condemning the fixture clash.

But his words were redundant within a half-hour when white smoke emerged and it became clear that the feisty Meathman had won the argument.

"It was very simple," Boylan explained. "I said 'lads, there's no point in going ahead with this (the game) if we haven't got everybody'.

"I was in the corridor, I was not at a meeting at all," he stressed. "I believe the Ard Stiurthoir came on board and got things sorted out and thankfully we're going ahead.

"It reminded me a bit of playing in the second match of a double-header and the match beforehand going to extra-time. You had to stop and sit down and get your head around things again.

"I couldn't see it (the inter-pros) going ahead unless it was sorted -- it would have made a mockery of it, particularly having Dublin as All-Ireland champions.

"It shouldn't have happened like that but sometimes we're all guilty and don't think.

"Maybe they (the CCCC) didn't consider things the way they should have, but thankfully it's been sorted out and the lads have been given a chance to represent their province."

Yesterday's embarrassing incident underlined the lowered status of the inter-provincials, which apparently the GAA's main fixture-makers either forgot about or chose to ignore.

Once sponsored by Iarnrod Eireann and known as the Railway Cups, the inter-pros have struggled to hold a place on the national calendar, where inter-club competitions now have much greater status.

Their return after a two-year absence is the latest attempt to breathe new life into the competition, yet both of Leinster managers insisted yesterday that the players still relish playing it and that they had nothing but co-operation from inter-county managers.

Joe Kernan has suggested playing the inter-provincial finals in conjunction with the All-Ireland club finals.

Boylan said that is a worthy idea but he favours the series being played to produce an 'international' team, which would then play a representative GAA team from abroad in a big promotional game annually that would be marketed towards schoolchildren.

Dooley's Leinster hurlers take on Munster at Nowlan Park, while Ulster take on Connacht in both competitiotns -- the football at Markievicz Park and the hurling in Ballinasloe -- all on Sunday at 2.0.

Irish Independent

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