Manager Sean Kelly proud of response of Leinster players

Manager must do without Dublin players for interprovincial showdown with Munster

It’s been lost and neglected and kicked around more times than a stray dog and still it refuses to go away. The question won’t go away either: does anybody care anymore about the Interprovincial Championship?

Something must be wrong when even the manager of one team can’t remember when they last won the competition.

For Sean Kelly, the former Meath footballer and selector now in charge of the Leinster football team, there is still merit in the competition although it must also find its proper place in the GAA calendar.

“I think it’s 2006 since Leinster last won it, but I could be wrong about that,” says Kelly. “And I think Connacht won it last year, although you might want to check that too.”

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Kelly is actually right on both counts, and yet the lack of any lasting value in an Interprovincial title is only part of the problem. Kelly’s Leinster team will face Munster this Saturday without a single representative from All-Ireland champions Dublin, as they are away on a team holiday in Thailand. And if they beat Munster they’re out again in Sunday’s final. So much for player welfare.

“I certainly feel there could be a longer lead-in. We’ve only been together this week, and it would have been nice to have three or four weeks to prepare.

“But then with the Australian Rules and the club championship and all of that it just doesn’t seem to lend itself to this time of year.

“Personally I would still play it on the one weekend, but bring it all together to the same venue. One suggestion I’d have is maybe the weekend of the All Stars. Have the All Stars awards on the Friday night, then play the Interpros on the Saturday and Sunday, football and hurling at the same venue.

“I know American Football do something similar with their all star awards. There definitely could be a lot more done to promote it, and find a proper place for it in the calendar. It’s been changed around all the time.

“We hear a lot of player burn-out as well, so if we win on Saturday, we play the final on Sunday, and playing two games back-to-back is not ideal. But I’m looking forward to it, and I’m delighted with the reaction and the commitment of the Leinster players.”

Former glory

Once cherished as the

Railway Cup

, before that championed as the Railway Shield, the GAA has tried various ways of reviving the competition to its former glory, including bringing it abroad. This weekend’s competition sees the football hosted by Ulster and the hurling by Connacht, and Kelly, who is also heavily involved in coach education programmes run by Leinster GAA, has got the commitment from players representing 10 counties.

The only worry is that none of those counties are currently involved in Division One.

“In fairness to Dublin, that holiday is well deserved, as All-Ireland champions,” says Kelly, who played under the Seán Boylan era with Meath.

“When I was asked to do the job I was told straightaway that the Dublin players wouldn’t be available. It would be lovely to have them, because at the moment, Dublin are actually the only Division One team from Leinster, which means we’ve had to pick from all the lower divisions.

“We haven’t got any Division One players, if you want to look at it from that point of view.

“But again they were all delighted to be asked, very hungry to play, and in fairness, when we picked the panel, every single one of the players we asked has come in. So I think that shows the commitment and the hunger that is there. A lot of these players mightn’t get many opportunities to play against the likes of Kerry or Tyrone or the counties from other provinces, so hopefully they can do themselves justice.”

Intercounty retirement

Indeed of the three Meath players,

Stephen Bray

is also committed, despite recently announcing his intercounty retirement. Kelly is joined by selectors

Johnny Doyle

from Kildare and

Vinny Claffey

from Offaly, and among the other standout players in his 24-man panel are

John Heslin

(Westmeath), Donie Kingston (Laois) and Niall McNamee (Offaly).

Leinster meet Munster in Páirc Esler in Newry (4pm) on Saturday for the right to play either Connacht or Ulster in the final in Crossmaglen on Sunday.

Ulster and Connacht play their semi-final at the Athletic Grounds on Saturday (7pm) night.

LEINSTER SF SQUAD (v Munster): P Rath (Louth), E O Flaherty, P O Neill, C McNally, T Moolick, O Lyons (all Kildare), R Connellan, K Martin, P Sharry, J Heslin (all Westmeath), D Kingston, E O'Carroll (both Laois), J Maloney, G Guilfoyle, A Mulhall, N McNamee (all Offaly), D Healy (Wicklow), B Malone (Wexford), S Bray D Keoghan, G Reilly (all Meath), D St Leger (Carlow), B Gilleran, P Collum (both Longford).

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics

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