Are we witnessing the end of the Railway Cup?

Dermot Kavanagh explains how, after more than a century in existence, the competition celebrating inter-provincial clashes may be on the way out

Railway Cup

Image: ©INPHO/Andrew Paton

While the love for the GAA in this country remains as strong as ever, this year saw outcry from club players who protested the association's packed calendar.

A season which includes club championships across both codes, league campaigns and the all important provincial and All-Ireland Championships, there's little or no room for additional competitions.

So where does the Railway Cup fit in?

Otherwise known as the Interprovincial Championship, the Railway Cup was a collection of the finest hurlers and footballers from each province. Dermot Kavanagh, author of The Story of Interprovincial Hurling — Railway Shield, Tailteann Games, Railway Cup 1905-2015, spoke to about the decline of the competition and offers one solution to restoring its relevancy in the GAA calendar.

"In 1905, the Railway Cup existed as the Railway Shield and lasted for four years between 1905 and 1908," he explains. "Then there was a gap of a couple of years up to 1924 and what followed was an inter-provincial series in the Tailtenn Games. A one-off series with good success.

"So in 1927 the Railway Cup was instigated and that has lasted until now, inclusive of one or two little gaps.

"It seems to be on its last legs. It was an amazingly popular competition up from the 40s, 50s and 60s but began to dwindle in terms of prestige and attendances dropping."

One reason for this is the increasingly packed schedule, of which players have little or no appetite to take part in the competition.

"It may be too late now but if there was any hope for it, I think they should take the All-Ireland club finals out of Croke Park and play them in Thurles. Then, have the Railway Cup on before it. 

"The last time that happened was 1974, there was a Railway Cup final played before a replay of an All-Ireland club semi-final. There was about 15,00-16,000 people at it. 

"That was the last big attendance. You would have to say, which match were the people showing up for? I think it either needs that, or it needs a definite slot in the calendar sometime around May - after the league finishes and after the Championship starts. 

"They have two chances to survive. Do it on St Patrick's Day in Thurles, because it's common to all the hurling areas,  or give it a definite slot on Bank Holiday Monday in May for example. Other than that, I really do think we'll see the end of it in the next year or two."

Ulster's Peter Canavan pictured playing in the Interprovincial Championship final in 2000, where his side took on Connacht. Image: ©INPHO/Andrew Paton

But with the demands placed upon inter-county players, does this prospect become even more unlikely?

"Once you deviate from the inter-county, you have to look after the clubs. I can imagine a number of club players would be whinging and saying 'oh here we go, another competition in May which is going to cut in on our activities'. 

"Aside from a definite slot, it may run into pressure from the newly formed Club Players Association. They would have a strong voice on the issue. Realistically, I think the competition will fall by the wayside but if it was given a chance without any opposition internally, I think it might survive by giving it a definite date in May or the move to Thurles.

"Other than that, we'll probably see the end of it."

On the issue of restricting it to a younger age group, Kavanagh cited the issue of player burnout: "They're trying to restrict the number of games that young guys play. 

"You've the minor and the U21s, along with the college competitions in the Sigerson and Fitzgibbon Cups. The issue of burnout is something that people from a medical standpoint are getting involved in now."