If there is one competition in the GAA that surely deserves to survive – if only for sheer persistence – it’s the old Railway Cup, nowadays known by the more long-winded Martin Donnelly Interpro Championship. For over two decades now it’s been holding off the naysayers, denying the prophets of its own demise. It’s the mini-championship that just won’t go away.
For GAA fans at large it has become the unloved old granduncle, a relic of once-glorious times in anohter age but now merely an embarrassment as it shuffles from one out-of-the-way corner to another, still trying to grab our attention.
Even the GAA itself isn’t doing it any great service. Go to the official GAA website, click on ‘national competitions’, the interpros don’t even feature; try to find them in the ‘Fixtures and Results’ section by ticking on the ‘By Competition’ box and again you come up empty. You will, if you're persistent, eventually find it in a sidebar but when you click on that link you're led to the results of the 2012 competition, and in football only – nothing that might lead any stray GAA fan to where this weekend’s games are being held.
And yet still it survives, hanging on by the thread woven for it by a truly generous and philantrophic sponsor, for surely if there is one sponsorship which isn’t generating a profitable return it’s the Martin Donnelly Interpro Championship.
So, it will probably have slipped the attention of most but they are on again this year, the semi-finals taking place this weekend at a number of venues around the country, squeezed in between the end of the early-season minor competitions and the start of the league in hurling, being played on an off-weekend in football.
This year in Leinster, with Dublin’s Pat Gilroy at the helm, they’re giving it a bit of a lash (one county – Kildare – a shameful exception). Given that the final has already been announced for February 24th in Croke Park (the original home of the Railway Cup in the glory days), a charity event with all proceeds going to the Children’s Hospital in Crumlin, the organisers will surely be hoping for a Leinster win over Connacht in Glennon Brothers Pearse Park, Longford this Sunday.
If it comes off, and given that Leinster have the likes of Bernard Brogan and Dublin teammates such as Stephen Cluxton, Paul Flynn, Michael Darragh Macauley, Ger Brennan and Rory O'Carroll togging out, then there is the possibility at least of getting a decent crowd next weekend. If not?
Doesn’t really matter, the players – the most important people surely in all this mix – still want it, as evidenced by the quality of the team that took the field for Munster in last year’s hurling semi-final. Look at them - Donal Óg Cusack (Cork); Michael Cahill (Tipperary), Paul Curran (Tipperary), Tom Condon (Limerick); John Gardiner (Cork), Padraic Maher (Tipperary), Pat Donnellan (Clare); Shane O’Sullivan (Waterford), Shane McGrath (Tipperary); Pa Cronin (Cork) Michael Walsh (Waterford), Brendan Maher (Tipperary); John Conlon (Clare), Eoin Kelly (Tipperary, Captain), Pat Horgan (Cork).
Look to the subs who turned up on the day, not even guaranteed a game - Donal O’Grady (Limerick), Stephen Molumphy (Waterford), Gearoid Ryan (Tipperary), Kevin Moran (Waterford), Pauric Mahony (Waterford). And then know that Munster, strong as they were, lost by five points to an even stronger Leinster.
This year Munster travel to Armagh to take on Ulster in both the hurling (12.30pm) and football (2.15pm). Leinster are separated, the footballers in Longford as noted above, the hurlers taking on an all-Galway Connacht side in Tullamore (both at 2pm).
Leinster hurling manager Joe Dooley has named an exceptionally strong 26-man squad, with 13 from All-Ireland champions Kilkenny, six Dublin, three each from Wexford and Offaly (including Joe’s son Shane) and Willie Hyland from Laois. That’s a hell of a strong line-up but then again Leinster have always taken this competition seriously and as reigning champions, are hunting down Munster’s roll-leading haul of 44. Munster manager Liam Sheedy is again going all out, a strong panel named.
From those of us who have been to these games be assured, they ARE seriously competitive. Surely worth supporting, those games and this competition.