Danny Hughes: Railway Cup provides players with the best of both worlds
THERE are a couple of ways to look at the Railway Cup.
The first is a pretty straightforward case of discontinuing the competition and consigning it to history. In all honesty, supporters would not miss it.
Only the participants’ families and friends make up the bulk of the spectators and, in the past number of years, this has resulted in poor attendances.
The second option is to simply move the games to the All-Ireland final weekend and just get on with it. I would be in favour of retaining the competition for the very same reasons we retain the International Rules tests.
I played under Joe Kernan for some years for Ulster and, when M Donnelly sponsored the inter-provincial competition, you felt it was taken very seriously and there was a real buzz to the competition from a playing perspective.
It may not be financially viable, but it is a ‘thank-you’ of sorts to those players who can perform at the highest level and, for some, it is a chance to play on an equal footing against the very best that other counties have to offer.
Additionally, it’s brilliant craic. We won the Railway Cup in London in 2009 and, heading out on the town afterwards with the McMahons of Tyrone, Kevin ‘Hub’ Hughes and Tommy Freeman was as a good a night out as you can get in GAA terms.
This is the very same reason why all players are in favour of continuing to represent their province and play inter-provincial football. It is a competitive fixture and, if you win, there is the inevitable ‘session’ afterwards.
In these days of stringent training calendars, drink bans and total commitment, when the straitjacket is removed from these elite athletes you tend to find that some players are like kids in a sweet shop.
When events such as the Railway Cup and the International Rules series come along it is great for players to have that freedom to enjoy the social aspect of Gaelic games, something which is virtually non-existent for the majority during the year.
The unhealthy movement towards professionalism from a playing perspective is making the prospect of mingling with supporters and friends increasingly non-evident.
When I first started playing National League football for Down, most players on the team would invariably meet up for a few drinks after games.
With the best intentions, you would say ‘a few’... then a few gradually became ‘a session’.
Maybe that’s why we never won that much, which is an argument that was levelled at the time. I think we just weren’t good enough. However, I would argue that, for a number of us, you would struggle to find a harder working and more dedicated bunch, especially when it came to training the following night, week and month.
I do not think that there was a ‘drink culture’ at the time, but there was definitely an ‘enjoyment culture’. Yet, to enjoy something, you need to taste success, win and see improvement. At times, we lost. At times, it was equally hard to see any improvement.
But when you place your faith in something, sometimes you have to the see the bigger picture. The bigger picture is something you have buy into when committing to an inter-county squad as the reality is that, more often than not, you will not win an Ulster title or an All-Ireland crown.
If you think that your career will be homecomings and medal ceremonies then you will be sorely disappointed. There is a fair bit of disappointment and, at times, soul-searching.
The bigger picture might mean ‘serving an apprenticeship’ in an inter-county team for a year or two via the bench. It does seem now that the days of a player willing to ‘serve his time’ in an inter-county squad is becoming increasingly difficult for managers to control.
This need for instant results or success on individual terms is something which is being mirrored in society. There is no bigger picture for some and what happens is that they end up walking away from a county panel or a team. A talent lost.
You can say that a manager is perhaps not giving you the chance, which may well be the case. I always feel, though, that if you are determined enough to achieve something, eventually you will.
And as in the Railway Cup and International Rules, when you enjoy something, it is easy to commit.
THE passing of Danny Murphy, aged 67, was a very sad occasion.
Although he had been ill, I still considered Danny a young man, as he was still very sharp and very articulate throughout recent times and challenges.
The GAA has lost a great servant. I will not forget how Danny, along with so many others, attended my own mum’s wake at a time when temperatures were slipping into -15C territory and it would have been easier to blame the terrible weather and conditions at the time for giving it a miss.
However, Danny had a great sense of duty, of giving himself to others. He was one of the most decent men I ever met. It was only right that so many well-respected figures attended his funeral to pay their respects to a man who lived, worked and breathed GAA.
My deepest sympathies are with his family and I hope that Danny’s legacy will provide the ultimate comfort. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.