St Finbarr's hurling legend Tony Maher on the magic of the Railway Cup

St Finbarr's hurling legend Tony Maher on the magic of the Railway Cup
Tony Maher (centre), looking like Geronimo with his war paint, rushes in to assist keeper Paddy Barry, under pressure from a menacing looking and bandaged Pat Kirby as Hurler of the Year, while Pat McDonald marks danger man Brendan Hennessy.

REMEMBER the Railway Cups, the inter-provincial hurling and football competitions played between Munster, Ulster, Leinster and Connaught.

Once upon a time, those games could generate crowds of 30/40,000 and the finals on St Patrick’s Day could draw in excess of 50,000.

To be chosen back in the '60s and '70s to represent your province was a huge honour and a Railway Cup medal was a cherished possession.

To win one with Munster was particularly satisfying because back then trying to get your place on a Munster hurling team was very difficult.

You had players from five strong hurling counties all in contention and everyone wanted to play.

To be chosen as the goalkeeper, full-back, centre-forward and so on, was a big honour, you were the chosen one of four other contenders.

To be selected to start for a Munster Railway Cup team in the 60/70’s was close to being chosen as an All-Star.

Leinster’s Railway Cup teams were dominated to a large extent by Kilkenny and Wexford players with a sprinkling of Dubs, Des Foley being one of them.

Into the '80s, Offaly had a strong presence and competition for places became more intense.

The Ulster team was comprised mainly of Antrim players while in Connaught it was close to a Galway starting 15.

Cork’s contribution to Munster’s winning teams was immense since the competition began in 1927 right up until the last final in 2016.

Christy Ring holds the distinction of having been a member of 18 winning Munster teams, a record that has to be staggering by any stretch of the imagination.

On a number of occasions, he was the team captain and playing with Munster meant almost as much back then to him as playing for Cork.

There were times when Cork’s representation wasn’t great, but two players, Blackrock legends, Mick Cashman and Jimmy Brohan kept the flag flying.

When Tipperary were at the zenith of their power in the ’60s, the Rockies greats still made the starting 15, proving what outstanding players they were.

Half a century ago this year, Munster defeated Ulster in the semi-final and subsequently defeated Leinster in the final in Croke Park.

On that Munster team, you had Cork represented by Tony Maher, Donal Clifford, Gerald McCarthy, the captain, Willie Walsh and Ray Cummins.

The full-forward line was Jimmy Doyle, Cummins and Babs Keating.

Tony Maher was a star among stars that day and he has nothing but happy memories of the Railway Cup.

Tony Maher goes high to clear for the Barrs from Glen Rovers' Patsy Harte and Tom Collins in 1977.
Tony Maher goes high to clear for the Barrs from Glen Rovers' Patsy Harte and Tom Collins in 1977.

“It was a great competition to play in, playing with players that you were marking most of the time.

“If you got chosen it was a great honour and I was fortunate enough to play alongside great players like Pat Hartigan, Mick Roche, Babs Keating, Jimmy Doyle and Noel O’Dwyer.

“When you put on a Munster jersey the inter-county rivalry was forgotten, you played for each other and by God you wanted to win.

“We had great games with Leinster in my time, they had great players from Kilkenny, Wexford and Dublin, Eddie Keher, Tony Doran and Mick Jacob and the rivalry between Munster and Leinster was intense.

“You could have 50,000 for the final in Croke Park on St Patrick’s Day.

“When we played against each other in the Munster championship nothing was spared but the Railway Cup brought us all together.”

And according to Maher, there were friendships made playing with Munster that have lasted to this day.

“Absolutely, one of the greatest was Jimmy Doyle, playing with him was an honour and we became great personal friends afterwards.

“We kept in touch until he sadly passed away a few years ago but he was an outstanding person on and off the field.

“He often came down to the Barrs back then and the respect between Cork players and Tipperary players of that era continued to grow.

“Jimmy was a great friend of Christy Ring, he had so much admiration for him and it was mutual. People came to the Railway cup games just to watch Ring, that’s the way it was.

“I enjoyed my time with Munster, we got a trip to America as a result of winning in 1970 but the friends I made out of it was the big thing.

“It’s a long time ago now, it’s hard to believe it’s 50 years since that 1970 final and of course that Railway Cup win was the start of a great year for Cork when we won the All-Ireland in September.

“I was sad to see its demise, it was a great competition, great memories, great games and great friends made.

“Times change of course and the crowds really dwindled in the latter years of the competition, that was a shame but such is life.

“I have a Railway Cup medal with Munster and I am very proud of it.”

The Munster team in 1970 was:

John O’Donoghue (Tipperary); Mick Considine (Clare), Tony Maher (Cork), Jim O’Brien (Limerick); Donal Clifford (Cork), Mick Roche (Tipperary), Len Gaynor (Tipperary); Gerald McCarthy (Cork), Bernie Hartigan (Limerick); Noel O’Dwyer (Tipperary), Willie Walsh (Cork), Pat Enright (Waterford); Jimmy Doyle (Tipperary), Ray Cummins (Cork), Babs Keating (Tipperary).

Also included on that team were:

Tony O’Brien (Limerick), John Kelly (Tipperary), Richie Bennis (Limerick), PJ Ryan (Tipperary), Jimmy Cullinane (Clare).

More in this section

Sponsored Content