Wednesday 21 March 2018

The life and times of inter-provincials...

The Railway Cup Child

Born: 1927

The competition was called the Railway Cup (it will also remain so in the minds of many people) because of its backing by Irish Rail. The finals, played in Croke Park on St Patrick's Day, were won by Munster (football) and Leinster (hurling).

The Railway Cup Teenager

Delighted its parents in Croke Park by developing into a strapping youngster whose exploits drew increasing interest from the public.

The Railway Cup in its 20s

The prime years. Crowds at the finals increased towards the 40,000 mark in the late 1940s before moving on to 41,416 in 1952. The all-time record was set in 1954 when 49,023 saw Leinster complete a hurling-football double.

The Railway Cup in its 30s

Retained crowds of over 40,000 at the finals into the early 1960s, but by 1965 the attendance was down to 31,000. In 1962, Dublin's Des Foley set a record by playing for Leinster hurlers and footballers (midfield for both) as they completed the double. In 1963, Christy Ring won his 18th Railway Cup medal with Munster. In 1965, Paddy Doherty (Down) scored 0-11 and Cyril Dunne (Galway) 0-10 as Ulster beat Connacht by 0-19 to 0-15 in the football final.

The Railway Cup in Middle Age

The decline in attendances accelerated in the late '60s and through the '70s but the competition still retained big interest among the players.

Instead of addressing why crowds had declined and working towards re-engaging with them, the GAA decided in 1981 to take the finals out of Croke Park, relocating them to Ennis.

It was the start of a series of unsuccessful experiments, including playing the semi-finals and finals over the same weekend at various venues while alternating between spring and autumn dates.

The Railway Cup at Pension Age

The competition wasn't played in 1990, giving the first indication that when it came to the inter-pros, the GAA's ruling classes saw no dignity in age, unless it could support itself financially.

The Railway Cup in its 70s

Some caring people took up its cause, including Martin Donnelly who came aboard as a sponsor (actually more of a patron). Clare's Noel Walsh was another consistent driver while the Ulster Council always backed it enthusiastically. Finals were played in Rome, Paris and Boston but, back home, several influential voices were priming the humane killer.

The Railway Cup in its 80s

The 2009 hurling final was played in Abu Dhabi. The competition dropped from the schedule in 2010/11 and, according to the top power brokers, was on death row, awaiting execution last April.

However, enough counties banded together at Central Council to grant it a reprieve, resulting in its reinstatement and the playing of semi-finals in Nowlan Park, Ballinasloe, Parnell Park and Markievicz Park tomorrow.

Martin Breheny

Irish Independent

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