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Ulster boss McGrath hits out at 'hypocritical' GAA after Railway Cup is axed

 

By Declan Bogue

Former All-Ireland-winning manager Peter McGrath believes the GAA are guilty of being hypocritical after they decided to kill off the Railway Cup.

The curtain has been closed on the Railway Cup, or Interprovincial Series as it became known in recent years, after nine decades after big name players continued to opt out and Connacht refused to field a 2017 team.

McGrath, however, claims that argument is invalid - as money is continuing to be spent on the International Rules series, despite All-Ireland champions Dublin having no players on the Ireland team.

The Railway Cup had been staged in recent years in front of dwindling crowds, although it had a couple of decent days in the sun when Joe Kernan successfully managed Ulster - they played the 2012 final in the Athletic Grounds to a crowd of 2,860, beating Munster.

Ulster captain Darren Hughes chided then-GAA President Christy Cooney in his acceptance speech when, in reference to the chief's desire to end the competition, he said: "Hopefully Christy doesn't get his way."

But having shifted it from that spot in mid-February to December - when players are either in the slog of pre-season or recovering from injuries - the appeal has waned. Last December's interpro football final was hosted in Carrick-on-Shannon and attracted a crowd of 150.

This leaves McGrath as the last successful manager of the football series, with Ulster beating Connacht in last year's final.

McGrath, the new Louth manager, said: "Connacht have definitely withdrawn, and I have not had contact at all from (Ulster Council Secretary) Brian McAvoy about the Railway Cup.

"I have enquired but there hasn't been a peep. The International Rules team is in Australia at the moment and Colm O'Rourke made a reference to it about a fortnight ago. It was a remark about something that had already been put into cold storage and he said, 'It's going the same way as the Railway Cup'."

Asked if he believed Connacht's decision came as a cost-cutting measure, he answered: "Connacht were very begrudgingly involving themselves in the Railway Cup, even though they won it three years ago for the first time in about 40 years.

"It appears to me that the Connacht Council didn't really have any great love for it, particularly in recent years.

"I think that came to a climax when they decided some time ago that they were definitely not taking part. Obviously if one province falls out then it becomes quite meaningless."

McGrath has successfully managed at provincial level and with the Ireland International Rules team.

As such, he is perfectly placed to comment on the assertion that the Interprovincial Series has lost its appeal to stars by comparing it to the non-show by Dublin players - who secured their third consecutive All-Ireland title in September - regarding the International Rules team, who are returning from Australia having lost the Cormac McAnallen Cup.

"One of the reasons I found was (Director-General of the GAA) Paraic Duffy, he was definitely not giving the Railway Cup any encouragement, and recently, a number of months ago, we were talking about the Railway Cup and how the best players don't always play in it anymore," said McGrath.

"And yet you have an International Rules team now in Australia, and Dublin have won the last three All-Irelands and they haven't a single member in that squad.

"So if they are still going to throw money and energy at the International Rules when your star team doesn't have a single member on it, and then you use the same argument to derail the Railway Cup, then there is a bit of a contradiction there."

Duffy did say in a recent Annual Report within a discussion on the Railway Cup at Central Council level that: '…in any case, given the number of elite players who had already indicated their non-availability, the signs for a renewal of public interest were not good.

'Maybe now is the time to accept the inevitable: our crowded playing calendar and a lack of interest among players and the public tell us that the competitions have no viable future.'

McGrath believes the decline of the competition is a pity.

"Not just because I am the current Ulster manager and all the rest, but I thoroughly enjoyed it last year. I think it's sad to be honest," said the Rostrevor man.

"Just given the history of the competition over a long, long time… we all know it had been struggling over the last number of years but nevertheless, the easiest thing in the world is just to bin something or walk away from something.

"It's very easy to do that. The hard thing is to sit down and work out a future for it.

"It could have been done if the will had have been there and had we applied creative minds."

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