A simple switch of GAA to U17 backfired on young players

In mid-July, Na Piarsaigh released a statement explaining why the club had given up their Premier 1 U19 Hurling Championship match with Blackrock.

The statement explained how the players and management prepared for the original match until Blackrock submitted a request to the Cork Competitions Controls Committee to postpone the game for a week due to the players being on vacation.

When Na Piarsaigh informed the District Council and CCC that they would not be in a position to carry out this match, the game was reinstalled to a later date. Na Piarsaigh suggested an alternative date in August but it was not accepted by the CCC.

BlackRock advanced but were defeated in the semi-finals by Middleton. The match was supposed to be part of a double header, but Glenn Rovers pulled out and Valley Rovers advanced to the final.

“It’s kind of an up and down competition,” Middleton’s co-head coach David O’Brien said after the BlackRock match. “We try to keep the boys together all year long between matches, leaving Siirt and the holidays.”

No benefit

In many counties across the country, a similar scenario has been implemented. For example, the Clare U19 Championship, which was also scheduled for July, was defined by walk-ins, no-shows, and lack of interest. Players who completed a Leaving Cert went on holidays. Other clubs had no interest in the competition but what did the county councils expect with the timing?

Overhauling the U19 contest in July may have been well-intentioned, but it was filled with icons and brands across the country. The chance of taking off with the big teams (or the main teams at all levels) was much less at those clubs who are ramping up preparations for their upcoming tournaments.

Cork’s turnout for the U19 Championship was less than 50%. The Middleton Valley Rovers final has yet to be played.

Timing is everything, especially in such a huge county as Cork that has plenty of fixtures to cater to. Cork CEO Kevin O’Donovan has always been aware of the need for a transitional age group between youth and adulthood, but where is that competition?

Many clubs struggle to convert players to the game of throwing and adult soccer once they leave the under-17s. Achieving this “leap” to adult level for a 17-18 year old can be so sudden and outdated that players pull away too soon. It may only be for a year, but many of those who spend that time turn away and never come back.

One of the main reasons for changing the minor degree to U17 was to separate minors from the adult degrees to prevent burnout and overcrowding.

This decision was sound in principle, but it did not go well with a lot of country clubs with small pools being extended to form an adult team without reaching the under-17s.

There are bound to be pressure points somewhere, but the provinces have been stuck in that space between 17-20. The science and social culture culture is now pervasive at all levels, but many 17-18-year-olds remain physically ill-equipped So. Adults hurl and play soccer until they are 19, 20 or older.

Bishopstown’s Sean Cronin made a superb save to deny Valley Rovers’ Daniel Lynch during the Rebel Óg Premier 1 MFC semi-finals in Mardyke. Photo: David Keane.

Then the problem is compounded with the 19-20 age group already severely disrupted with the third level of college study, travel, new jobs, and everything else associated with greater independence at that age.

All of these issues make it difficult to contest under-19 and under-20 club competitions. However, providing the right organized competition to fill the void between adult football and hurling remains one of the greatest challenges of the GAA.

After a raft of suggestions on the topic surfaced in Congress in February, GAA President Larry McCarthy created a commission to explore underage degrees. It was thought that these recommendations might make proposals for a special conference this fall, but the committee will instead work on a proposal in Congress next February with a view to submitting it in 2024.

However, Cork is clearly keen to tackle the matter sooner rather than later.

At a county council meeting in August, there was talk of Cork’s possible proposal to bring a minor back to U18 and a partial dismissal where Cork clubs in lower adult grades could recall U18 players.

However, a county by-law that would enable Cork to return a minor to U18 was not permitted under the general rule. As a result, Cork’s only avenue was to seek a break from the general rule. However, the Central Board will not grant any exception at the same time that a subcommittee in Croke Park is examining underage grades.

However, the U19 score’s collapse has left U18 players in a serious bind. And the fear of more and more players being swept away is more real than ever.

Cork was right to seek U18 back as an afterthought, especially when a segregation (preventing U18 teams from playing) for senior, middle and junior teams seriously helped address the problem in such a huge boycott.

Cork was also advocating that junior teams A, B and C be allowed to field under-18s because overlapping with junior teams for them would be less important.

Segregation is particularly necessary in Cork to organize fixtures and present a master plan early in the year. But doing this for everyone in U17 is impractical. Efforts to accommodate the U19 degree in Cork and beyond this year have failed.

At the moment, there is no easy solution to this huge problem in sight.