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Saturday 16 December 2017

Railway stays on track

THE GAA's most unloved competition came within inches of a most spectacular false start yesterday when the relaunch of the M Donnelly Interprovincial Series faced a possible walkout from Leinster manager Seán Boylan, which threatened to degenerate the much-maligned competition into farce.

Boylan was in attendance but stood stoically outside room 686 in the Upper Hogan Stand -- the venue which had been designated for a press briefing and the unveiling of both the Leinster football and hurling squads -- for some 40 minutes until a guarantee was received that the abandoned Dublin v Mayo Allianz League Division 1 match would not be replayed this Saturday, as had been confirmed by the Mayo county board earlier that morning via Twitter.

By the time Boylan entered, the nod had been passed down the corridors of the stadium that the match would not be played next Saturday following an intervention from GAA chief executive Páraic Duffy, and the conference commenced.

"It's very simple," Boylan admitted chirpily after the easily avoidable fiasco had been officially avoided. "I said, 'there's no point in going ahead with this if we haven't got everybody'.

"John (Cotter, Leinster GAA PRO) spoke to the powers that be, the Árd Stiurthoir came on board and things got sorted out, which was right."

With disaster successfully but belatedly abated, the remaining question lingered: would Boylan have come in at all had the Dublin-Mayo match gone ahead on Saturday, thus depriving him of his 10-strong representation from the All-Ireland champions, including his captain, Alan Brogan?

In an example of typical GAA diplomacy, the answer never emerged but explaining the reason for his delayed entrance, the four-time All-Ireland-winning manager reasoned: "It reminded me a little bit of playing in the second (match of a double-header). There's a match on beforehand, it's a drawn match and there's extra-time and you have to stop and go and sit down and get your head around things again.

"Really that's what it was. People maybe didn't consider or think about things the way they should have and so on."

He insisted that going ahead with the series without his 10-strong Dublin representation would "be making a mockery of it" and given their semi-final meeting is down for a 2.0 throw-in on Sunday in Parnell Park, you could easily see his point.

"It would be an awful shame not to give the rest of Leinster the chance to play with the Dublin lads," he explained.

"You couldn't ... I certainly couldn't have seen it having gone (ahead) without that being sorted out."

Boylan made the comments while sitting beside long-time competition sponsor and strident supporter, Martin Donnelly, who has remained admirably staunch behind the competition despite pleas from the top level of the GAA for it to be put out of its misery in the face of minimal public interest.

In 2010, when it was wiped from the GAA calender -- albeit temporarily -- association president Christy Cooney went so far as to say: "I don't believe there will be a push to have them reinstated.

"I would have been a strong supporter of the Railway Cup over the years but I think they have seen their day. There's no point running a competition just for the sake of it."

The history of the competition is one of wildly oscillating success/failure and yesterday's near catastrophe almost sounded the latest in a series of audible recent death-knells.

The series has thrived, lingered, died and now been revived over a relatively short space of time and in the face of consistent and high-powered opposition, Donnelly persists.

The argument that the competition be retained for the sake of the players certainly holds sway when viewed against the squad eventually announced by Boylan and his hurling counterpart, Joe Dooley.

Dooley, in particular, appeared immensely pleased that every phonecall he made was met with a positive response and that 13 of last year's All-Ireland-winning Kilkenny team are named. The only two missing are the retired Eddie Brennan and injured Henry Shefflin.

"It's easy to say judge it but if you don't lift a hand to help it and you put obstacles in the way, you can't judge it," said Donnelly. "We have to give it a couple of years and we have to give it a plan. And if we do that, it can succeed."

For the record, Dublin officials confirmed that they have no problem with the re-match for March 31st, despite the fact that both they and Mayo will face a run of six League games in successive weekends. Chairman Andy Kettle communicated the news to Pat Gilroy and the Dublin manager gave his imprimatur to the re-fixed date.

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