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30 January 1997 Edition

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Sportsview: Trainspotting

By Sean O'Donaile
``Are you right there Michael, are you you right?
Do you think we'll make it home before the night?
Sure I'm sick and tired of schhtar-tin'
an' I couldn't say for sar-tin
So we might now Michael so we might''.

The above verse is not a request from a passenger about a Bus Eireann service, but probably the best known song, composed by Percy French, about the now defunct railway system of the West Coast of Ireland, which at its peak reached into many little villages and towns of the western seaboard in the earlier years of the century.

The Progressive Democrats must have entered the fray at some stage, as the service was eventually whittled away - on the grounds of ``financial savings'' - to the skeletal service we now have, much to the chargin of our once glorious leader Garret Fitzgerald, Ireland's most famous trainspotter.

In its heyday the railway even had a competition named after it, the Railway Cups, an interprovincial hurling and football championship, which were second only to the All Ireland in terms of importance. Like the line, the competition had its own halcyon days, with crowds of up to 50,000 going to see the mighty men of Munster cross camans with Ulster, and such stuff. Christy Ring, the Pele of hurling, was the most successful, winning seventeen medals in his time, and Des Foley, Dublin's most famous dual star, once played in two finals on the one afternoon.

By the time the railway line had disappeared, and the engines sent to museums, or brought by retired mad old English generals to play with, the competition's only purpose seemed to be in giving star players like Moses Coffey of Wicklow and Peter McGinnity of Fermanagh an opportunity to actually win something.

The Railway Cups are still avoiding the museums, but just about, mainly due to the interest of the players, and on Sunday last Connacht footballers won their first match in ten years when they defeated Munster in extra time, within a stone's throw of the old West Clare railway station in Ennis.

Munster looked to be steaming to victory, leading to 1-7 to 0-3 at the break, with Niall Cahalane, who was supposed to be too old three years ago, playing a starring role. Enter Leitrim's Dub, Declan Darcy, who slotted home 2-6 to tie the match and in extra time ``the Wesht'' was more awake than the southerners, and clung on to win by a solitary white flag. The Connacht side were backboned by Mayo stars who seem to be thawing out for another long journey.

Up in Navan, Ulster who recently won nine or ten titles in a row, were giving Leinster - who steamed to a ten point victory in front of a parse 1,000 souls - their turn at the top. Ulster seem to have lost their appetite after their heroics of recent years and the Leinster side was peppered with energetic young folk from Louth, Wicklow and Carlow, who don't look likely to win any trophies for a season or ten. There were only three pairs of `Red hands' togged out for Ulster with a similar situation for the Dubs, whose Ciaran Whelan could be the new Jayo' for `97. Man of the Match/Hero of the Hour/Man of the Moment was Louth's Colin Kelly, who scored 2-5, which must be the Wee County's best scorer since Dermot O'Brian and his accordeon-wielding side of `57.

Finally, Liam O'Coilean has been pestering me to laud Chelsea's trouncing of Liverpool, but credit is mainly due to the late Matthew Harding's chequebook, and besides, Chelsea have a large following from all our friends in the Conservative Party. I hope that's all you have in common with John Major, Liam! Choo-Choo! Huff-Puff!

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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