Mackey, Meagher, the Doyles, Smyth, Ring, Rackard, the names resonate down the decades; now look through the teams selected by Leinster and Munster for today’s semi-final in Fermoy, and there stands James McGarry, Brian Hogan, Tommy Walsh, James Ryall, Derek Lyng, Michael Rice, Richie Power, Willie O’Dwyer, Eddie Brennan and Aidan Fogarty of Kilkenny, all recent winners of All-Ireland senior medals.
Look at Munster and there you have Waterford’s Eoin Murphy, Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh, Eoin Kelly and John Mullane, all ready for action, playing alongside Brian Murray, Donal O’Grady, Mike Fitzgerald and Seán O’Connor from the Limerick team which beat them in the All-Ireland semi-final. Offaly have David Franks and Kevin Brady included in the Leinster team, All-Star nominee James Young of Laois is there, while Westmeath’s progress is recognised through the inclusion of Darren McCormack among the subs. Included for Munster are the more renowned John Gardiner and Seán Óg Ó hAilpín of Cork, alongside hurlers of high repute from Clare and Tipperary, and were it not for the fact that the championships are still not resolved in most counties, there would be even more big names on display.
So, why do these M Donnelly Inter-provincial championship games struggle so much for recognition, for public support? Pat Dunny made his name nationally through the old Railway Cup, as it is still affectionately known. From Kildare, a county as unlikely then as now to win the Liam McCarthy, Pat was nevertheless deemed good enough to hurl for Leinster, won four Railway Cup medals in hurling, doubled up with a football title in 1974. For him, provincial recognition was a singular honour.
“For any player it’s a chance to play with the best in his own province and that’s important, but, for a player from the weaker counties, it goes beyond that. I’m from Caragh parish, played with Éire Óg in hurling, Raheen in football, and here you were, from a little club, in a non-hurling county, and we could put forward someone to play with the best in the province.
“I played with Mick Jacob, Tony Doran, Pat Henderson, Eddie Keher. I’d say some fellas were hardly aware where Kildare was! Here was I, a young lad, and being accepted by real stars of the game. It was fantastic. Then there were the friends I made — Liam O’Donoghue of Limerick, Eamonn Cregan, Ray Cummins and Gerald McCarthy.”
These are the stories forgotten when those who advocate scrapping the inter-pros stand up. Without doubt there’s a problem with selling the competition but, according to Pat, that should not be the be-all and end-all. The major difficulty is finding a suitable slot. March 17, the traditional finals day, is now the preserve of the club finals, while the rise of colleges competitions has created additional problems. Nevertheless, Dunny argues the competitions have to be retained.
“This is for the players. It’s a huge honour to be asked to play for your province, especially if you’re from one of the smaller hurling counties. I would keep it, definitely, if only for the players. The finals must be heavily promoted. Croke Park under lights, it’s an ideal opportunity.”
LEINSTER: J McGarry (Kilkenny); B O’Leary (Wexford), B Hogan (Kilkenny), D Franks (Offaly); T Walsh (Kilkenny), K Brady (Offaly), J Ryall (Kilkenny); D Lyng (do), M Rice (do); R Power (do), J Young (Laois), W O’Dwyer (Kilkenny); B Lambert (Wexford), E Brennan (Kilkenny), A Fogarty (do).
MUNSTER: B Murray (Limerick); E Murphy (Waterford), D Fanning (Tipperary), G Quinn (Clare); J Gardiner (Cork), C O’Mahony (Tipperary), S Og O hAilpin (Cork); M Walsh (Waterford), D O’Grady (Limerick); M Fitzgerald (do), S O’Connor (do), E Kelly (Waterford); J Mullane (do), N Gilligan (Clare), L Corbett (Tipperary).