LEINSTER 4-9 CONNACHT 2-12 JOHN McINTYRE WE came to Rome, or so we imagined, to bury the Railway Cup once and for all; to locate a final resting place for an ailing competition which has defied the GAA's most concerted efforts to revive it.
Even the rival Connacht and Leinster hurlers mingled together at the Hotel Jolly on Vittorio Veneto for a 'last supper' style eve of match international farewell to the Railway Cup. Nero would have cringed at the combatants' familiarity with each other.
But perhaps the GAA has stumbled on the solution to secure the future of the competition. A permanent date on the fixtures calendar, an alternating international venue and proper marketing could yet save the Railway Cup.
A crowd of about 1000 - including a few curious local onlookers - turned up at the quaint Giulio Onesti Sports Complex to see the first GAA final staged on foreign soil since the 1947 All-Ireland football decider in New York's Polo Grounds.
The cosmopolitan attendance saw a rousing spectacle too as the Noel Skehan-managed Leinster admirably rallied from an early second half deficit of nine points to claim the province's 23rd Railway Cup crown.
Five goals in six extraordinary second half minutes turned the match on its head despite Connacht's Eugene Cloonan grabbing two of them - the first coming in the 40th minute after a David Forde cross to leave the Westerners in control on a 1-9 to 0-4 scoreline.
Leinster, however, simply refused to yield - demonstrating once again the players' continuing loyalty to the Railway Cup - and produced a storming final quarter to inflict another avoidable defeat on their wasteful all-Galway opponents.
Goals from Henry Shefflin, moments after switching out to the wing, the influential John Hoyne and Rory Hanniffy helped to haul Leinster back into the contest before Connacht defender Fergal Moore was controversially adjudged to have picked the sliotar off the ground four minutes from the end.
Shefflin stood up and rifled the resulting 20-metre free to the roof of the net, with Hoyne and Hanniffy putting the seal on Leinster's stirring comeback with late points.
Apart from Hoyne, goalkeeper James McGarry, Liam Dunne, who gave another exhibition of crisp striking from his half-back post, Stephen Hiney, Derek Lyng, Tommy Walsh, Rory Hanniffy and his substitute brother Gary were the main architects of Leinster's victory.
SCORERS - Leinster: H Shefflin 2-2 (1-1f), R Hanniffy, J Hoyne 1-1 each, T Walsh 0-2, C Keaney, D Lyng, G Hanniffy 0-1 each. Connacht: E Cloonan 2-3 (0-3f), M Kerins, D Forde, A Kerins 0-2 each, R Gantley 0-2 (0-1 sideline), T Óg Regan 0-1 (f).
Leinster: J McGarry, M Kavanagh, N Hickey, D Franks, L Dunne, B Whelahan, S Hiney, C Keaney, D Lyng, T Walsh, J Hoyne, R Hanniffy, R Jacob, H Shefflin, B Carroll. Subs: G Hanniffy for Jacob, B Murphy for Carroll (both 40 mins), D O'Connor for Franks (47), P Cuddy for Whelahan (52).
Connacht: L Donoghue, D Joyce, D Cloonan, F Moore, F Healy, T Óg Regan, D Tierney, O Canning, J Conroy, A Kerins, M Kerins, K Broderick, D Forde, E Cloonan, R Gantley. Sub: R Murray for Regan (48).
Referee: G Harrington (Cork).