It's up to Croker to show Interpros still have a pulse
WE'LL start with a small exercise in mathematics. But first, a word of reassurance for all traumatised readers suffering from 'figure-phobia'... there is no cause for alarm as the numbers involved are not, what you call, astronomical.
That's because we're doing a roll call on the interpros.
The following are estimated attendances for last Sunday's four M Donnelly Interprovincial Series semi-finals: 1,500 (Leinster v Munster hurlers in Kilkenny), 250 (Connacht v Ulster hurlers in Ballinasloe), 700 (Leinster v Munster footballers at Parnell Park), and 500 (Connacht v Ulster footballers in Sligo).
These, we should stress, are approximations ventured by media observers but it's still fair to surmise that barely 3,000 GAA diehards deigned it worthy of the time, effort and cost to attend one of these matches last weekend.
Even less than this paltry total are likely to have prised open their wallets for the privilege, as one match report from Nowlan Park quoted the number of paying customers at 1,059.
Now onto the second part of our maths class. The official attendance for last Saturday's AIB All-Ireland club semi-final between Garrycastle and St Brigids's was 5,969. Pearse Park, the perfect stadium fit for such an attractive local derby, was rocking. We'll even hazard an educated guess that the actual attendance (when children are factored in) was heading towards 7,000.
Meanwhile, at the same time in Portlaoise, some 4,084 were gathering to watch the other club football semi-final between Crossmaglen and Dr Crokes.
So here's the mathematical conundrum: how can you have 6,000 people watching one club match in Longford while scarcely half that total formed the combined crowd for four interpro games showcasing a galaxy of All Stars, not to mention a cosmos of Kilkenny hurlers?
Is it simply a case that the old, once-loved Railway Cup is a dead dodo? Or is the GAA hierarchy engaged in a supreme act of hypocrisy, pretending that it wants the series to survive but doing little beyond the standard press launch shindig in Croker to actively promote the event?
It must be said that, at this juncture, it's debatable what if any future the competition has. And yet, if Croker is serious about the concept - and again that's open to question, given previous statements by Christy Cooney among others - then you can't simply revive a series after a two-year hiatus and tell everyone to come along because the players love it, you're guaranteed a good day's entertainment, etc, etc.
Put bluntly, the public won't buy it. They didn't last Sunday.
Clearly, the various managers feel a lot more could be done. Leinster hurling boss Joe Dooley felt their semi-final with Munster should have been broadcast 'live' on TV.
He echoed the view of most observers about the pressing need for a fixed date on the calendar - his preference was for playing the interpro hurling final before the All-Ireland club SHC decider on St Patrick's Day, but somehow we can't see that coming to pass.
Munster football manager Ger O'Sullivan declared pithily: "In any business, and the GAA is a business, you must market. I saw the amount of marketing that went into the International Rules a few years ago, and it brought huge crowds out."
All very true... and you've got to wonder, given how the International Rules entertainment quotient has dipped alarmingly in recent years, whether it's more worthy of salvation than the interpros?