Western People – County Council chiefs unhappy with Croke Park proposal

By Mark Higgins

County Council Secretary Dermot Butler has accused Croke Park of ‘putting a gun to clubs’ heads’ over the potential reclassification of underage club competitions.

During a debate on whether minor club championships should remain at unequal age levels (under 13, under 15 and under 17) or return to age levels peers (under 14, under 16 and under 18), Butler said. that the recommendations coming out of Croke Park did not take into account the problems faced by small clubs and rural clubs in forming teams at adult level.

Central Council delegate Paddy McNicholas presented the delegates with the recommendations that have been sent to counties by GAA headquarters. Croke Park asked counties to express their preference for keeping primary grades for minors at unequal ages or returning to even ages, from 2024.

However, Croke Park’s proposal that would allow a return to even ages comes with a stipulation that if players play minor football for their clubs at under-18 level, they would not be eligible to play at level. adults for their club in the same year, i.e. the Under 18s would be ‘decoupled’ from adult competition.

Chairman Seamus Tuohy told delegates the task force set up by Croke Park to look into the issue was “overwhelmingly” in favor of keeping in unequal age brackets.

Mayo GAA Bord na nÓg chairman Daithí Gallagher told delegates that a poll recently sent out by Bord na nÓg revealed a strong preference among clubs for a return to equal age brackets.

The survey, which asked clubs to indicate a direct preference for uneven or even-numbered age groups, was answered by 36 Mayo clubs, with 94% of respondents expressing a preference for even-numbered age groups.

A second survey was then issued to clubs by Bord na nÓg in light of Croke Park’s recommendations, asking clubs to express a preference between the two options set out – staying at unequal age grades or returning to age grades. equal ages with uncoupled under-18s. adult soccer.

Gallagher said 66% of respondents were in favor of decoupled even age classes.

“The evidence is still very clear,” Gallagher said. “Clubs would prefer an option without stipulation, and that we govern the competitions ourselves and decide who is eligible to play in our competitions and who is not.

“We don’t want a scenario where there’s too much crossover between adult and underage football for the 18-year-old. Right now we know there’s a huge gap there.

“We haven’t provided enough competition for the 18-year-old. But it’s important that we return to Croke Park with that proof from the clubs,” continued Gallagher.

He went on to say that Bord na nÓg’s preferred option would be to hold an Under-18 league competition early in the year, to be completed before the state exams in June. An Under-18 Championship would then be held after the Leaving Cert, to be concluded before the start of the Adult Championships later in the summer.

Secretary Dermot Butler said the decoupled same-age option as set out by Croke Park would put enormous pressure on smaller clubs.

Mayo GAA secretary Dermot Butler described Croke Park’s approach to the reclassification of minors as “bad, very bad”.

“It seems to me that Croke Park wanted everyone to go to odd numbers, 13, 15, 17. And when that didn’t work out, and they realized that clubs and counties wanted to go back to brackets of even-aged, there was this caveat, gun to head, that if we go back to even-aged brackets, your 18-year-olds won’t be playing senior football, which is wrong, very wrong.

McNicholas said Croke Park’s logic focuses on preventing the situation in which 18-year-olds are answerable to up to three different managers at once; a manager under the age of 18, a senior manager and, when they return to school in September, a school principal.

Butler responded that while this approach makes sense for large, urban clubs with many members, it doesn’t work for smaller clubs.

“Rural clubs in this county are struggling,” he said.

“If their 18-year-olds aren’t allowed to play with their senior team, well, they’ll fold. That’s not what the GAA wants.

Assistant Treasurer Michael Diskin pointed to what he called “hypocrisy” in the options offered by Croke Park. He said under Croke Park’s option that would see underage grades remain unchanged at unequal ages, 18-year-olds will be free to play at adult level without restriction.

“(Croke Park) only worry about (18-year-old players) when it relates to their own proposal,” Diskin said.

“But they don’t care if it’s not related to their own proposal.”

It has been agreed that the Bord na nÓg will return to the clubs and present them with a choice of three options – unequal ages, decoupled even ages or even ages without stipulations – to get a fuller picture of the clubs preferences before returning. to Croke Park with an answer.

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