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Interpros see the light

Kevin McStay

Munster’s Tom O’Sullivan and Connacht’s Conor Mortimer
RENEWING THEIR RIVALRY Munster’s Tom O’Sullivan and Connacht’s Conor Mortimer are pictured during the M Donnelly Interprovincial FC semi-final in Ballyforan last Friday night.

Interpros see the light

Kevin McStayA LOT of old rubbish is spoken and written about the M Donnelly sponsored inter-provincial football championships (that’s the old Railway Cup to you and me). It’s supposed to be an irritant on the football calendar (it certainly is at present but that could be easily enough solved) and a series of matches nobody is interested in. Well, that is kinda’ true too. Indeed if you position yourself at Croke Park HQ level and check the enthusiasm scale for a measurement, it will be very low indeed. See, the only game in town just now is the International Rules Series.
Over a period of the last twenty or so years there are men, all wearing dark glasses, whose only job is to kill off the inter-provincial matches. And whoever they are, they have no future as trained killers. Flesh wounds are inflicted regularly (fixture clashes with county finals), the odd grenade is rolled in under the bed (this year’s clash with the International/Compromise Rules) but we have no administrator with the assassin’s eye. Because the truth remains that these games, if given the full support of the GAA community (what about a small bit of marketing fellas?) are attractive, will get a decent following and remain very close to most players’ hearts.
Why so? First up, they have a strong history and the older generation has a certain grá for them. Secondly, every player has ego and it is nice to be recognised as one of the top players in the province, get the jersey to keep and generally enjoy the experience. Thirdly, you rub shoulders with some of the best from north, south and east and lastly, the winner these days gets a trip overseas. My own preference is as a curtain-raiser to the All-Ireland club football on St. Patrick’s Day with the hurling finals going to Semple Stadium.
In my own time we took it all a bit for granted but I still reflect on a couple of titles that were allowed slip by. It is a beautiful medal to win and it is accompanied by a mark of distinction. I am all for the inter-provincial series as it gives us a chance to see great players in a less pressurised environment. Similar to watching them at club level we see them perform seriously skilful movements we did not think possible. For instance, the goal Kieran Donaghy scored in the first half on Friday night was brilliant; a bullet of a slicer into the far corner.
I do not know who came up with the formula for the latest effort in hosting by Connacht but I will hazard a guess it was hatched in the 094 area. The choice of Ballyforan on the Roscommon/Galway border as the location was perfect. Under lights? Better again. Now I know the Munster men will not thank us for the Friday night date but I suspect they gained as much in terms of player release as the westerners did by playing it on the first night of the weekend.
The game had an 8pm throw-in and a fine crowd turned out. I no longer hazard a guess at crowd numbers for fear of falling over when the official announcement is made. It was a cracking game of football, enjoyed by all and a late Connacht goal meant extra-time so we did not get out of the field until after 10pm.
We were surprised to see David and Ger Brady show up but they would play a most influential part in the game and in many ways were the difference between winning and losing. No Ciaran Mac as he had the club semi-final versus Ballina on his mind. So, who was right? Well all three have plenty of county senior medals, Connacht club and indeed an All-Ireland one. And if the Brady bunch can go ahead now and win the inter-provincial title, they will have a medal few others do — Connacht last won this in 1969. I certainly do not blame them, after all they do not make the fixtures.
Mayo players dominated this game with Alan Dillon, Conor Mortimer and Ger Brady responsible for the biggest portion of the tally. With time up in normal time and the home team a goal down, up popped David Brady in the opposition goalmouth to bravely get a touch to a high ball and divert it into the net. Extra time.
Both sides had spun themselves dry and with the batteries low only two further points were scored in the 20 minutes played, both for Connacht. A great win and with Leinster taking Ulster out a day later, it’s all set up for a Connacht win in downtown Boston at the end of the month.
I hope Connacht come together a few times and focus in on winning this championship. A handful of ex players and administrators are trying very hard to keep this thing lit, a win would be a much needed spark.

The Connacht game was the beginning of a very successful weekend for the Connacht manager John O’Mahony. He added a double on Sunday with Ballaghaderreen and St Brigid’s in Roscommon completing an expected double. However, completion of the unexpected treble was the big achievement. 
The Roscommon county final left a lot to be desired, as the standard never rose above the ordinary. A bigger crowd than normal attended (see theory on crowd size estimates above) but the players failed to respond and the standard of athleticism and skill on display was woeful by times. The watching John Maughan is facing another difficult winter and with the winning minors not near ripe for plucking, he will have to manage with what is there.
Nonetheless the county lads are back at work and their conditioning will improve, these programmes are at least two-year cycles nowadays. I did not see Gary Cox (St. Faithleach’s) play for some time and he will certainly be an addition to the senior squad next year. The two-in-a-row champions face the Sligo champions shortly and it will take them all their time to win that one. Overall then, another disappointing final.
And there was an interesting rule teaser from the final. Brigid’s had put on a sub (Senan Kilbride) near the end of the game and as he took up his position, the player coming off (Garvin Dolan) but not yet off the field of play, struck an opponent (well, tickled him really, but the Faithleach’s man took an outrageous dive!). Dolan got an immediate straight red. What happened then? The referee ordered Kilbride off also to ensure Brigid’s would only have 14 players. Correct decision? Answer next week. 
Down Mayo way Ballagh’ won through and my own prediction of a 1985 repeat looked good going into injury-time in the Ballina-Cross’ semi. But the curse of the late goal struck and so we will have a unique pairing for this year’s final. At least I think so...my ‘Green Above The Red’ argument settler is not close to hand but I am sure you will let me know if I am mistaken. 

FINALLY, I want to bring an upcoming programme on RTE to your attention. We have been bombarded in recent years with theories about the Ulster Revolution in GAA from the early 90s onwards. A lot of it was hype but some of it had solid foundations.
Scéal Ó Thuaidh is a brand new six-part series on RTÉ Two charting the incredible, and at times highly controversial, rise of Ulster counties. It starts this Thursday night.
The central focus is on the achievements of Tyrone and Armagh, part of which is regularly attributed to the training and preparation of the players from an early stage.
The programme gives unprecedented access to young GAA scholarship students at the Sport Institute of Northern Ireland (SINI) at the University of Ulster, Jordanstown. We see at first hand the students as they are trained and conditioned for inter-county football. 
There are interviews and contributions by key figures like former Tyrone captain Peter Canavan, current Armagh player Kieran McGeeney, Armagh manager Joe Kernan and current Tyrone manager Mickey Harte. The series will also cover aspects such as the controversy surrounding the much-maligned `blanket defence’ strategy employed by many of the northern teams to Derry manager Eamon Coleman’s sacking in 1994.
I thought that the series might be of interest to Mayo News readers. I did not see the advance screenings or tapes/DVDs but am reliably informed that if you are interested in the management/preparation angle of teams for your club or county, then the series is a good look.