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Munster and Cork ace Jimmy Barry-Murphy races past Ulster back Peter Mulgrew to score the first of his four goals in the 1975 Railway Cup final in Croke Park.
Munster and Cork ace Jimmy Barry-Murphy races past Ulster back Peter Mulgrew to score the first of his four goals in the 1975 Railway Cup final in Croke Park.
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Given the Rebel tradition in the competition, it's sad to see the Railway Cup fade away

THE final curtain looks set to fall on the Interprovincial Series, for those of us of an older vintage, the Railway Cups.

Many, of course, would say that the curtain fell a good number of years ago when the interest in a once great competition started to wane considerably.

The competition has gone into severe decline in recent years.

Some blame the GAA for this decline due to the low level of promotion given and the lack of a fixed date to be played each year] The finals, held on Patrick’s Day, attracted huge crowds in the 1950s and 1960s, however, by the 1990s attendances at the once prestigious competition had reduced to only a few hundred.

The All-Ireland club finals have superseded them in popularity and have taken over the Patrick's Day fixture in Croke Park Croke Park.

Some of the younger generation probably would not know what you were talking about if you mentioned the Railway Cup and that’s a pity.

It was once a revered competition and to be selected on a Munster, Leinster, Connacht or Ulster team was a huge honour.

The greatest hurlers and footballers won Railway Cup medals with Christy Ring leading the way with 18, spanning the years 1941 to 1963.

That is a phenomenal achievement in any sporting arena and it happened at a time when the Railway Cup was hugely competitive between Munster and Leinster.

Munster won the first Railway Cup hurling title in 1927 and on that team were legendary Cork players like Sean Óg Murphy, Jim Regan, Jim Hurley and Eudie Coughlan.

For any young person that might read this column, they might well ask, has this fellow lost his marbles altogether talking about something that happened nearly a hundred years ago.

But that’s GAA history and the list of Cork hurling greats that savoured success in this old competition is endless.

Outside of All-Ireland final day, Railway Cup finals in Croke Park often attracted 50,000 people or more.

Sadly, now, however, you would be lucky to get two or three hundred at a game in the competition that, of course, is now titled the Interprovincial Series.

Of course, the GAA is not the only sport where you have the four provinces going into combat.

And, similar to the decline now in interest in the GAA games, rugby had the same problem in the dying days of the amateur game.

A Munster, Connacht game in Musgrave Park or in the Sportsground in Galway might only generate an attendance of 300.

Now the two venues would be full since the advent of the professional era.

That can never happen in the GAA and, whilst it is always sad to see the demise of a once great competition, it seems that there is no way back for the old cups now.

However, it was interesting to read the comments of Derry footballer Chrissy McKaigue last week when he declared that the GAA top brass could have done more to preserve the competition.

He was quite right when he stated that the vast majority of players are still interested in lining out in it.

He made a suggestion that handing over the gate receipts, however small or big, to various charities.

Maybe if there was a greater purpose, he said, you might get bigger crowds. Something like that would have an impact on society.

One wholeheartedly agrees and a former Cork great, Tony Maher agrees too.

Maher has a few Railway Cup medals on the sideboard at home in Turners Cross and he’s proud of them.

“Definitely, it was a great competition and you wanted to be selected to play in it. You were playing on the same team with players you always played against.

“Players you had a fierce rivalry with. I played on Munster teams with Babs (Keating), Jimmy Doyle, Mick Roche and we formed great friendships with those fellows, even if they were the fierce enemy when Cork played Tipp.

“You had huge crowds in Croke Park on the final day and I, for one, am very sorry to see it the way it is now.

“Could the GAA do more to save the cups? Of course, they could but they don’t seem interested.

“They seem to be losing touch altogether with the grassroots.’’ 

At the time of writing, Connacht had pulled out of the football series and it’s hard now to see it surviving.

What a pity because we all have our own memories of great Railway Cup days, great players like Maher, Jimmy Brohan from the Rockies have too.

Meanwhile, it looks like the GAA in Munster are going to press ahead with the Munster League despite the fact that Tipperary and Waterford have withdrawn from it.

Given that the GAA calendar is going to be much changed in 2018 and with the NHL beginning on January 27, with Cork v Kilkenny, is there any need for this pre-season competition?

It might be an opportunity for the counties remaining in it to give young players their fling but, then again, what will you learn on a muddy pitch in the first week of January.

And only the real diehards will have an appetite for attending those games.

The format isn’t decided yet but, hopefully, with four teams just left in it now, you will have two-semi-finals and a final and not a round-robin series.

And being brutally honest, who wants to be playing hurling on the eve of New Year’s Eve, something that is proposed.