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GAA Football

Ulster to use U20 games as senior curtain-raisers rather than U17 ties

Derry won the last ever Ulster minor championship in July. The grade will be replaced by an U17 championship next year, but Ulster Council will play it as a standalone competition and instead double the new U20 grade with the senior championship. Picture by Seamus Loughran.

THE new Ulster under-17 football championship will include a back door system next year – but the games won't be first choice as curtain raisers to senior championship ties.

The U17 grade will replace the outgoing minor championship from 2018 but in a break with long-standing minor tradition that was expected to carry over, the provincial council has decided that it will be a completely separate competition.

The draw for the U17s will be made at the next Ulster CCC meeting later this month, and it is set to begin much earlier than usual, with the weekend of April 21 pencilled in for the first games.

Traditionally, the draw for the senior championship has doubled as the draw at minor level, but that custom will now move to the under-20 grade.

It will follow the senior draw and it is hoped that the games in the new U20 grade will step in and provide the curtain raiser.

It has been confirmed that the U20 final will be played as part of a double-header with the Ulster SFC final on June 24, but Ulster will have to wait until Congress next spring for the green light on some of their earlier games.

As it stands, the rules state that the U20 championship will “be played across the month of June, July and August”.

A motion is set to go forward from the provincial body requesting that the last weekend of May be included in the window for U20 games.

Playing U20 games alongside senior would almost certainly reduce disruption the club fixture schedule as players involved with a senior county panel are not allowed to participate in the U20 championship under rule.

Yesterday’s confirmation by the GAA of the fixture plan for 2018 shows that the Ulster SFC preliminary round and all four quarter-finals will be played by May 27.

Were Ulster to succeed in their bid to Congress, they would be able to play the under-20 ties between Down and Antrim, and Derry against Donegal or Cavan, alongside the corresponding senior fixtures.

There may yet be a number of under-17 games used as forerunners to senior ties next summer depending on dates and fixtures, but u17 football will effectively become a separate entity.

It will begin in late April and run until mid-May, by which stage it will have been whittled down to the last four. It will take an exam break until mid-June, when the semi-finals will be played. The final is provisionally set for mid-July, most likely the weekend of July 14/15.

Ulster and Connacht had previously resisted the idea of a back door at minor, but Leinster and Munster have been employing the system for several years now.

The teams beaten in the four provincial finals have been handed a second chance courtesy of the All-Ireland quarter-finals, but the new U17 system will offer a second chance to each of the nine teams involved.

Meanwhile, the Ulster SFC will be completed in the space of just seven weeks next year as part of the overhaul of the GAA’s national fixture calendar.

The four quarter-finals will be played over Saturday and Sunday of two consecutive weekends as planned, with the provincial final brought forward by three weeks to June 24.

It will be one of three football finals that weekend as the GAA experiments with a Saturday evening provincial final for the first time. The Munster decider will be played the previous evening at 7pm, with the Ulster and Leinster finals on the Sunday afternoon.

The new round-robin quarter-finals, or Super Eights as they’ve been colloquially labelled, will be played over consecutive weeks and there’ll be no rest for the four emerging teams, who will be straight into semi-final action the week after the final round-robin games.

The All-Ireland football final, as expected, is down for September 2 due to the expected Papal visit, but will move into August from 2019 onwards.

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