THE hugely popular Féile GAA competition is switching to U15 for 2021, instead of the traditional U14 level which has been in place for all bar one season since it was established in 1971.
The decision, though not taken on the basis of this year's Féile being called off due to Covid, is a welcome one for the male and female players born in 2006 who were left disappointed in the spring.
The revamped Féile includes the chance for all clubs to play outside their own turf, not just the sides who win the local legs of the the event. It is being mooted as a way to retain more teenagers in GAA while also providing opportunities for all players to travel beyond the county bounds.
It's an interesting contrast to the approach here in Cork to the U15 age grade, and U13, by Rebel Óg.
In a move that has drawn huge criticism from a number of Cork clubs, Rebel Óg have placed an emphasis on U14 and U16 next season, encouraging teenagers to play 'up an age' even in areas with the population to field teams in every grade.
The U13 and U15 leagues in Cork will now take place later in the year, as Rebel Óg's preference is for clubs to enter up to four teams if required at U14 and U16. This despite an average of 28 team entries at U13 and 23 at U15 in recent seasons.
This decision is a source of major frustration for clubs with large numbers as it blurs the lines between age grades and poses a challenge in how to stream young players on ability.
A Development League at U14 and U16 was in place instead of U13 and U15 competitions this summer in the shadow of Covid but there were a host of mismatches.
While clubs regularly use U13s in U14 championship and U15s in the U16 championship, they face a dilemma in how to organise their league panels. Per the new Rebel Óg guidelines a list of 15 must be submitted before the league commences who can can't play for the team below them.
Previously only 10 players would be named as first-teamers for league games. That allowed for a bit of movement between the first and second teams in bigger clubs and a way to reward and develop those showing form in the second team.
In explaining the Féile switch to U15 GAA director of games development Shane Flanagan said: "Drop off is an issue, like every other sport. You could see a sort of growing narrative out there in terms of a somewhat elitist approach to Féile, which we didn't want.
"There has been some over the top stuff going on with Féile, there's probably been an over-emphasis on it in some places. Obviously that serious approach, maybe, was leading to some drop-off.
“We want to create an experience whereby as many players as possible stay in our games for as long as possible and certainly that's why Féile was started in the beginning."
The logistics have yet to be finalised in terms of the new version of the national Féile. Previously there was a central base, with Cork the hurling hosts in 2018, but now it will be regionalised, dialling down the pressure on players and taking in far more clubs every year.