Connacht Council secretary John Prenty has plenty to smile about at the moment.
The province has provided teams for all bar one of the six All-Ireland Club finals and is the home of reigning minor and U21 national inter-county football winners. And last Sunday they claimed a title that has eluded them longer than any other. The Inter-provincials.
So when his fellow county man, Aidan O’Shea, lifted the Railway Cup in Tuam it signalled the end of a 45-year famine.
“We’ve been there or thereabouts for a long time,” he said. “We lost a few we thought we’d won in that time so we put a good panel together, a very good one it turned out.”
Back-boned by Roscommon footballer Cathal Cregg who kicked 1-7 and led by Galway legend and Connacht games manager John Tobin who managed the side, there was much to be pleased about.
And for Prenty, ending the winless streak also created a new record with Ballyhaunis’s Keith Higgins becoming the first player to win football and hurling interprovincial medals.
“I was looking back through records last night and I couldn’t see any way another player would have won the two. I was delighted for him as I’ve known him since he was eight.
“It meant a lot to the players and there’s no doubt about it, the players love it. John Tobin told them beforehand in the dressing room that there’s only three senior titles you can win at inter-county level and the Railway cup is one of them. I was in Leitrim the night before presenting medals and there was a definite sense that the province wanted to win this one.”
He delighted then in seeing Leitrim’s Emlyn Mulligan and Gary Reynolds make an impact and become the county’s most successful footballers with two FBD Leagues and a Railway Cup title each.
“And then you have lads like Mark Breheny from Sligo as well who has given his all down through the years. He never turned us down for anything and always came. He may have been the elder statesman of the team but he now has a national medal.”
Meanwhile, GAA President Liam O’Neill admitted playing the interprovincial football and hurling finals this time of year is wrong and they will have to be moved to later in the season to have any chance of survival.
O’Neill said he is going to give it another go in his final year as president to find a slot that will work.
He was present in Tuam Stadium on Sunday when a crowd of only about 600 witnessed the game, and the province will be bidding for a double this Saturday evening when they take on Leinster in Croke Park in the hurling equivalent, prior to the NFL game between Dublin and Cork.
“I think at some stage we’re going to have to find a slot maybe in the close season, bite the bullet on that, use it as a kind of end of season exhibition series, pick a town, have semi-finals and final over one weekend and see can we promote it,” said the outgoing president.
“But we’ve made so many attempts at this stage, it’s disheartening, I know there are people who love the competition, but we need to do something different. If we keep the same format the same result is going to happen.”
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