It’s difficult to miss the irony of the situation that sees the first International Rules test taking place just over 24 hours before the semi-finals of the Railway Cups. But, of course, nobody needs to read the tea leaves in order to interpret what the GAA hierarchy feels about the much-maligned interprovincials, with Nickey Brennan himself declaring recently that the tournament is “past its sell-by date”. He could well be right – the other day I came across an article in the Irish Times written by Sean Kilfeather in the mid-Seventies where he was bemoaning what he saw as the predictable annual calls for the scrapping of the Railway Cups way back then – but, as any morketing luvvie will confirm, if you don’t make any effort to sell a product, then it’s obvious it’ll still be on the shelf once its sell-by date comes around.
While the GAA devotes enormous effort to International Rules, the notion of playing for your province has been allowed to decline over a period of decades (and you have to go back as far as the Fifties for the apotheosis of the Railway Cups) to the point that nobody really bothers about its continued existence anymore. It used to be said – this was Sean Kilfeather’s point – that the players wanted the series to continue but this doesn’t appear to be the case any longer, with most of the A-list cohort preferring a bit of sunshine and some makey-uppey football-cum-street fighting Down Under to representing their province in Gaelic football back at home. It’s hard to blame them: if you had the choice between Perth and Kiltoom at this time of year, you’d do the same.
Mickey Harte has been swimming strongly against the official tide on this issue for some time but he made the interesting point recently that playing for your province is the highest level of representation within Gaelic football (and hurling) and that, as such, it should be the level that inter-county players aspire to reach. He rightly derided the notion of Gaelic players “playing for their country” given that it’s not Gaelic football they’re playing and argued that the focus should instead be on building up the standard of Gaelic football overseas. (And there has been plenty of progress in this area in recent years, as Ronan outlines). But Mickey remains a voice in the wilderness on this issue and given the likelihood (the risk of serious violence notwithstanding Down Under) that International Rules will remain a fixture in the GAA’s calender, it’s difficult to see how any meaningful enthusiasm can be re-injected into the Railway Cups.
PS: Tom Parsons has been named as one of the inter-change players in the Irish team for this morning’s first test in Perth. Meanwhile, no announcement has yet been made about Connacht’s team to face Leinster in tomorrow’s Railway Cup football semi-final at Kiltoom (throw-in 5pm) but Johnno’s 25-man panel includes nine Mayo lads (details here).