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Railway Cup can steam ahead with a little help, says Donnelly

By Declan Bogue

Fresh from sealing Ulster's 32nd Inter-provincial crown under a low sun in Carrick-on-Shannon on Saturday, Eoin Donnelly, captain of his county Fermanagh and his province, has insisted there must be a future for the competition.

Referring to the 2-16 to 3-10 victory against Connacht, the physiotherapist said: "You don't see many scores like that in the Championship. Even in the league, games don't finish as high-scoring as that.

"We should be promoting that. It is a good opportunity for young fellas to come out and see some of the top players playing a free-flowing game of football and some fantastic scores, some fantastic goals.

"I think if the thing was promoted right, whatever time of the year it is played at, it can be made a success."

First played for in 1905 as The Railway Shield, and given its name because of the train transport concessions for fans travelling to the games, the Railway Cup was put on a firm footing in 1927.

However, for over a decade now the lustre of the competition has dwindled to the point that high-ranking officials in the GAA have questioned the worth of continuing it. The main gripe with the competition as it stands is that it doesn't have a home on the calendar after the All-Ireland Club finals pushed it out of its previous St Patrick's Day date.

Last year, poor weather caused the cancellation of the competition, few lamenting its absence.

Despite that, it is always something that is coveted by players, even allowing for the lack of any representation from Donegal and Monaghan.

Donnelly himself was delighted with the opportunity to play a competitive game under relatively little pressure and escape the December treadmill of pre-season training, if only for a while.

"At this time of the year, boys are going back into their counties to train again and everyone secretly wants to be playing football," chuckled the midfielder.

"We don't want to be doing the runs with no football in sight and only the McKenna Cup in January to look forward to.

"So it's a good competition for boys to test themselves against the top footballers around. I definitely enjoyed the football over the last few weekends."

One interesting facet of the game was the inclusion of the 'mark' rule, which is due to come in across the board in all Gaelic football from January 1.

Ulster took a number of marks throughout, and its potential impact on football was markedly illustrated in the 40th minute. Declan McCusker caught a Niall Morgan restart and with opposition players unable to put pressure on him, he was able to pick out Tomás Corrigan, who set off Eoin Donnelly. He then passed to Charlie Vernon who shot to the roof of the net and put Ulster in front for the first time in the game.

This was an example of how Gaelic football will have to adapt to a new rule, and what the mark can achieve.

"It's hard to say just yet (how it might work out)," was Donnelly's view of a new rule that will affect him as one of the best fielders of the ball in the game.

"I would say with any new rule that comes in, there are probably going to be a few controversial ones, whether somebody is on the '45' or over the '45'.

"It didn't slow the game down too much. Boys were able to play on or take their free quickly enough."

Donnelly was also delighted with the biggest ever Fermanagh player representation, with six players seeing action across the two games and five finishing the final in Michael Jones, Aidan Breen, Donnelly, McCusker and Corrigan.

He had particular praise for defender Breen, who hit 1-2.

"He has been playing super stuff. With Pete (McGrath) being in charge we had some idea what the potential in Fermanagh was and we probably got a few more out than we would have for the last few years," he said.

"When you look around our bench even, most counties were represented. When you made a substitution it was almost like a stronger player was coming on all the time and that's a credit to the players that came out."

And he also paid tribute to his club Coa O'Dwyers, perhaps one of the smallest on the island.

"I am proud to have my family down here and the Coa club have always supported me. It's great to lift the trophy, especially in the Coa colours as well!" he added.

Belfast Telegraph

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