GAA Football

GAA has no plans to revert to U18/U21 age grades

Tyrone's Fintan Coney and Seamus Sweeney and and Monaghan's Karl Gallagher in action during last year's Ulster MFC final between Tyrone and Monaghan. Picture by Philip Walsh.

THERE are no plans for the GAA to revert from its controversial new age gradings, with the fixtures task force saying the move to U17 and U20 has been central to the “greatest strides…in a fixtures context.”

The decision to change the competitions, which came into effect at inter-county level in 2019 and have been transferred to club level from next year onwards, has attracted criticism.

Former Derry forward Paddy Bradley recently spoke out against the move on social media, saying it was “very disappointing” and that, in his view, it would “only increase dropout”.

The task force's report acknowledged that the question of age grades at inter-county level was “raised on a number of occasions”, but that the ban on allowing U17s to play adult competition has been central to alleviating pressure on fixture makers.

Some counties had considered bridging the gap to senior by playing an U19 competition as well, but the task force strongly recommended that it should be either that or U20, but not both.

“The Task Force is of the very strong view that there should only be one further inter-county grade between U17 and senior level,” read the report.

“If there is more than one inter-county grade between U17 and senior it will have serious negative impacts on the availability of players to clubs.

“This raises the question of whether the next grade up from U17 at inter county level should be U19 or U20. It is the view of the Task Force that a separate group is assigned to examine the question of U19 or U20 and make strong evidence based recommendations for the Association that achieve a balance between the Developmental imperatives on the one hand, and the suitability of each in terms of the national fixtures calendar on the other.”

Meanwhile, the “emotional attachment” to the existing provincial championships will see the current names retained even if the formats aren't.

Yesterday's report confirmed the intention to put forward a proposal to counties that would involve rebalancing the four provinces with eight teams each.

Abolishing the provincial championships was never on the agenda beyond the task force's original report last December, at which point it made clear that its consultation process had returned significant support for their retention.

One idea being examined is to create four eights by sending the bottom-ranked Ulster team from the Allianz League to Connacht, as well as the bottom three teams in Leinster into Munster.

The other idea – as part of the same overall plan – is that the bottom two from Ulster playoff, with the winner staying in the province and the loser going to Connacht.

“I think at this point we'd still call them Ulster, Munster, Connacht, and Leinster,” said GAA director of Player, Club and Games Administration, Feargal McGill.

“I think there's an emotional attachment to those names, that certainly came out in the original consultation process when asked people to get in touch with us with their views.

“There is still an emotional attachment to those things and a great history attached to them, as well. There are no plans to change the names of those championships.”

McGill denied that the Tailteann Cup, which was due to be introduced in 2020 as the second tier championship, was an afterthought in the new proposals.

The original tiered system would have been based on finishing league positions, with the top 16 counties at the end of the Allianz Leagues playing for the Sam Maguire, and the bottom 16 in tier two, with the possible exception of a provincial finalist from the bottom half.

“I wouldn't accept that at all,” said McGill.

“One of the main driving forces behind having a Tailteann Cup is to give counties that haven't a chance to win silverware, let's be realistic there's a small number of counties that have a chance to win it, it's to give counties in the lower end the chance to win something meaningful.

“Talking about it being shoehorned or whatever to my mind takes away from what we're trying to achieve here which is to put something meaningful in place. To get a Leitrim or whoever it is up to Croke Park on a bit day and to win a meaningful second tier competition.

“You ask the counties involved in the McDonagh Cup whether it meant anything to them in hurling or not to win it and you'll find out that it did. That's what we're trying to do.

“Unfortunately the Offalys and Carlows and Leitrims of this world just aren't in a position to contest for the Sam Maguire at the moment. So that was the thinking behind it.

“That came from those counties, it didn't come from us. It came from those counties, they wanted to see something in place that would be meaningful for them.

“So no, I don't accept that it's shoehorned in there at all. I think it's still very important to put something in place for everyone outside of the top eight or 10 teams to aim for.”

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