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The Railway Cup - How Is It Still A Thing?

The Railway Cup - How Is It Still A Thing?
By PJ Browne

The Railway Cup returns to our lives this weekend. You probably haven't heard anything about it.

On paper the Railway Cup sounds great.

The best players from each province banding together to create sides with fantasy football levels of talent.

In reality though, this once-great competition is on life support outside of Ulster and should probably be mercifully put down by HQ.

On Saturday, at the Gaelic Grounds in Armagh, a star-studded Ulster side featuring the likes of Mattie Donnelly, Sean Cavanagh, Colin Walshe, Conor Laverty, Sean Quigley, Tony Kernan and Aaron Findon take on holders Connacht.

Earlier that day, in Newry of all places, Leinster take on Munster at Pairc Esler. That Leinster panel is comprised of players from ten counties. Dublin is not one of them. The All-Ireland champions and the country's largest population centre will contribute zero players to this competition. Despite the lack of Dubs, the side still appears formidable with the likes of Donie Kingston, Niall McNamee and John Heslin featuring. The Munster side is not exactly brimming with Kerry legends, either.

To spice up this year's Railway Cup, the organisers have decided to introduce experimental rules, something Ulster manager Pete McGrath said he will only spoke to his players about at training last night.

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The three rule variations being tried out are the 'mark', the 'solo pass free kick' and extra subs.

The 'mark' is a well-established concept, something which was experimented with in the National League a number of years ago but not adopted permanently. Once the ball is caught beyond the 45m line following a kickout, a player can either choose to take a fee kick or continue playing.

The 'solo pass free kick' is the equivalent of 'tap and go' in rugby. There will be a 5m exclusion zone around anyone taking such a free kick.

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These are rules certainly worthy of further examination. However, to introduce them at such short notice would
appear silly and seem likely to further undermine the competition.

McGrath told the Irish News about his slight apprehension.

But I still think they've rushed it, they haven't covered themselves in glory, but if they want to look at these rules and the other provinces are agreed - and we know that two already are - we won't stand in the way of seeing how these rules might pan out.

The other thing is - who even knows it's on?

Last year's semifinals - Connacht vs Munster in Tuam and Leinster vs Ulster in Navan - saw attendances of 100 and 294 respectively.

Ulster players like Aaron Kernan have spoken of their love of the Railway Cup in the past, but the purpose of the competition seems lost on the rest of the country. The GAA's promotion of it would appear minimal, to be kind. Were it not for the philanthropy of a certain M. Donnelly, the Interpro's would surely fade from existence.

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In a period of GAA history when fixture congestion and player burnout are particularly prevalent topics, it would appear ridiculous to ask these individuals to play and then completely ignore promotion.

Ticket prices for Saturday's games are ridiculously cheap - it's just €4 to attend the Athletic Grounds and Pairc Esler. Given the talent on show, that is a bargain. Hopefully the games do not disappoint.

Picture credit: Piaras Ó Mídheach / SPORTSFILE

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