Ryan Byrne/INPHO Ciarán Kilkenny and Mark Timmons tussle for possession.
heuston we have a problem
Train in vain: Can the Leinster championship ever get back on track?
Dublin’s prolonged dominance means the provincial championship is not fit for purpose.

If you ever go to Houston
Better walk right
Keep your hands in your pockets
And your gun-belt tight

  • Bob Dylan, “If You Ever Go To Houston”



DUBLIN’S HEUSTON STATION has always inspired in me a sense of adventure. 

While the northwestern bound Sligo train from Connolly station speaks of home, when I find myself in Heuston it is only ever to go somewhere else. Arriving there on Sunday morning, a familiar but no less exciting journey was ahead of me. 

Heuston station is my gateway to the Munster hurling championship.  



Mrs Arvin: “Tell you what I think, I think it’s 1959 and this boy’s singing songs about the boxcar? What a boxcar going to mean to him? Right here, we got race riots, folks with no food. Why ain’t he out there singing about that?” 

Mr Arvin: “The boy a guest in our house.” 

Mrs Arvin: “I know he’s a guest. I’m just trying to speak what’s in my mind…”

Woody: “No! Say it.” 

Mrs Arvin: “Live your own time, child. Sing about your own time.” 

  • I’m Not There (2007)



For all that Todd Haynes’ I’m Not There overreached in its effort to tell Bob Dylan’s stories, it captured the naivety of a young singer’s attempt to pass himself off as an experienced man of the world with alarming precision. 

A portrayal of Dylan carried across six different actors – Richard Gere, Cate Blanchett, Heath Ledger, Christian Bale, Ben Whishaw and the 14-year-old Marcus Carl Franklin in the guise of “Woody” – that scene brutally exposes the artifice of a young Dylan’s infatuation with Woody Guthrie and sets in motion an artistic transformation that culminates in his renowned protest songs of the 1960s. 

Albeit a little hokey, the central point of “Mrs Arvin’s” argument reveals not only what “Woody” must realise, but what America was coming to acknowledge too. The boxcars, freight trains and all that romantic nostalgia affixed to Guthrie’s era was gone. 

“The National Interstate and Defense Highways Act of 1956 was probably as important in shaping Bob Dylan’s career as any movie star, poet or musical influence,” wrote Ian Bell in part one of his seminal two-part Dylan biography. “The legislation committing Washington to a $25 billion road-building programme all but silenced the railroad engine’s lonesome cry.”

As the 1950s moved into the 1960s, America’s infatuation had turned toward the open road. 



You can get a sense of rail’s rich history in Ireland walking through Heuston station on a quiet Sunday morning. 

Known as Kingsbridge until the 1960s, its emergence predates the foundation of an Irish Free State by some 76 years. What with the Butlers coffee stand, Off Beat Donuts or Supermac’s, one might initially struggle to appreciate the historicity of this site. 

Yet, even in a sporting context it is fascinating to consider how many teams and supporters passed through here on the way to major GAA matches in Croke Park. 

My father and I (he had driven from Sligo to Dublin earlier that morning so we might travel together) may have been heading in the opposite direction for a match of great significance in Thurles, but the sense of passing through lost none of its potency. 

Attached to the Munster championship paternally, I find none of its mysticism – however mawkishly it is harnessed for the purposes of publicity and promos – is lost on me. It has always been something we have travelled from outside of Munster to attend and been none the less engaging for it. 

Although journeying to it by train is a relatively recent concept for us (no train from Sligo goes further south than Dublin itself, scandalously), there is an added poignancy to arriving in Thurles that way and making our way to Semple Stadium on foot that is both brilliant and inexplicable all at once. 

As we drank our coffees then and waited while the powers that be at Heuston station held off on revealing our train’s platform until about five minutes before the scheduled departure, it suddenly dawned on me that the throng of people gathered in the main hall were not wearing much Limerick green or Waterford white. 

Who were these people, and where were they all going on a Sunday morning? 

“Christ,” I muttered to myself before checking the stops that preceded Thurles on our train and turning to my father, “the Dublin footballers are playing in Portlaoise.”  



In recent years, the Leinster football championship has only ever grabbed my attention when it appears Dublin are about to hand out an unmerciful hammering to a county they once would have considered a rival. 

There is a grim fascination to watching Goliath as he ties David’s arms behind his back, tosses away his sling and brutalises his smaller, weaker opponent for 70 minutes. 

As we boarded the train and quickly discovered that any hope of a chat with some nearby supporters heading to our game would not materialise, we were surrounded by the travelling Dublin contingent. Unimaginable as it was that their county would record anything but a convincing victory, credit is due that these supporters would make the journey in such numbers. 

Loud, boisterous and in search of a good time, bottles of beer were being exhumed from pockets and cracked open on belt buckles before the train had fully departed Heuston.  

While my father and I leant toward one another every few minutes to speculate upon Davy Fitzgerald’s plan for Limerick and figure out the last time we were in Thurles, our quieter moments were spent listening to the lads around us chat amongst themselves. 

Home improvement, a growing appreciation for wine and the mysteries of Sky Glass were all up for discussion. Stephen Cluxton’s return, the depth of Dublin’s talent or – dare I say it – any concern for what Laois might bring to the table didn’t come up. 

Truthfully, if those around us weren’t so clearly attired in their Dublin gear one would struggle to figure out where they were all going on this Sunday morning. 



“At this stage of my life, I’d like a radical transformation of the whole system and get rid of the provincial systems. I don’t think they are doing anything for Leinster or Munster where you have Kerry and Dublin dominating almost for the last 130 years.”

Colm O’Rourke, speaking in 2019



There was a time when the Leinster football championship held for its counties and their supporters a degree of excitement and unpredictability that still surrounds its Munster hurling alternative. 

As we journeyed back to Heuston from Thurles later that day and I checked the day’s other GAA scores, however, I had to hold the phone up so my father could see what had just transpired in Portlaoise. 

Laois 2-09 Dublin 4-30. 

jack-mccaffrey-and-damon-larkin Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Where there is some merit to the argument that elite inter-county hurling has become too high-scoring a game, Dublin’s 27-point winning margin surpassed even what Kilkenny had managed to rack up in a routine defeat of Westmeath in Nowlan Park. Their astonishing tally of 42 points bettered the combined score both Limerick and Waterford managed in Thurles an hour or two earlier. 

It is evident enough that the Leinster football championship has not been fit for purpose for some time now. 

Whereas even the province’s historically strong counties are huddled with the perennial underdogs in the boxcar of a freight train heading nowhere, Dublin, for all that they have lost ground on their All-Ireland rivals, have driven so far out of sight on a highway exclusively of their own.  


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