Cork schools GAA: Huge changes ahead for prestigious Munster competitions

Cork schools GAA: Huge changes ahead for prestigious Munster competitions
Douglas' Alan O'Hare goes past Glanmire's James Crowley during the Premier 1 MFC in Glanmire. O'Hare will feature for Rochestown as a hurler and footballer when school resumes. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

BACK in March, just after the lockdown had begun, and sporting events worldwide had been postponed, an online petition still demanded that the Leinster Schools Rugby Cup finals go ahead.

“All four finalist teams and all those associated with their respective schools are disappointed and outraged,” the petition stated. “We, therefore, demand the finals to be played at some point in the future.” 

 There was minimal chance of that happening over the last few months but Green Party Senator, Vincent Martin, picked up the trail in the Seanad recently. Martin said that the game should be played and that Newbridge College and Clongowes Wood, the two teams that reached the Leinster Schools Senior Cup final, should be given the chance to “reach the promised land.” 

 The frustration of the players is understandable but raising the matter in the Seanad was ludicrous when so many other important matters are being discussed in such a difficult time for Irish society.

On the other hand, it's also easy to understand the players disappointment at missing out on what might be their only chance to play on such an elite stage.

That was fully evident when the All-Ireland Colleges hurling and football championships were abandoned in late June. All the schools involved were keen to play the competitions. Proposals were put in place but the schools received an email in late June detailing the cancellation.

The decision wasn’t the wish of the Post Primary Schools Council, but as a sub-committee of Coiste Bainistí, they had to adhere to the decision made.

The call was devastating for the players involved. Tralee CBS won their first Corn Uí Mhurí in 13 years back in February and joint-manager Mike Tim O’Sullivan called on the GAA’s management committee to reverse their decision 

“We do acknowledge we are operating in unprecedented times and there are constraints in trying to get club and inter-county fixtures played,” said O’Sullivan. “But our lads have been telling us that, from their point of view, they have the next 10-15 years to be playing club football, whereas they only have one chance of playing in a Hogan Cup. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for these fellas and it is being taken away.” 

On RTÉ Radio One's Saturday Sport recently, Cathal Moore of Presentation College Athenry also spoke about the hurt still being felt by their players, who had reached the Croke Cup semi-final.

"The sense of disappointment among the players, students and parents, it hasn't gone away," said Moore. "They are still very anxious to go ahead and finish this. It will only take two days to do it. One day for two teams, whoever loses their semi-final and two days for the teams that get through [to the final]."

That’s unlikely to happen now though, especially when PPS competition regulations have already been decided upon for the 2020-2021 season. Many of those competitions have been heavily amended and will apply for the coming academic year.

In Munster, new regulations were proposed by CCC of Comhairle IarBhuscoileanna Na Mumhan and ratified by the Munster Council at the end of July. The Committee remain hopeful of resuming activity but all competitions are subject to NPHET and Government Guidelines.

In that context, they weren’t in a position over the last few weeks to publish any Master Fixture list but they are hopeful of doing so next week.

It will be a vastly changed format from usual. All competitions will be run on a knockout basis for the 2020-2021 school year. The Harty Cup and Corn Uí Mhuirí will operate on a seeded draw based on last year’s respective competitions.

Tadhg O'Connell, Ballincollig, is pursued by Jack Cahalane, St Finbarr's, in a minor game this week. Cahalane will be a key hurler for Christians again in the revised Harty Cup. Picture: Jim Coughlan.
Tadhg O'Connell, Ballincollig, is pursued by Jack Cahalane, St Finbarr's, in a minor game this week. Cahalane will be a key hurler for Christians again in the revised Harty Cup. Picture: Jim Coughlan.

All ‘B, C, D & E’ competitions will be completed on a regional basis first, similar to what is already in place with the U16.5 C football and U15 C football.

The Province will be divided into two regions, Region 1 and Region 2, with the regional winners meeting in the competition final. Those measures are being introduced to cut down on travel time and minimise the amount of time spent by students in close proximity to each other on busses.

One of the biggest changes though, is that games up to and including competition quarter-finals will be played on a home and away basis, although that is subject to CCC review.

With the committee foreseeing issues with securing the use of neutral club venues due to Covid 19 requirements, they feel that the best way to avoid games not being played, or competitions not being finished, is to implement a home and away draw for 2020-2021.

In that regard, the school hosting the game must provide a local GAA club venue to host it, with the home team/host venue being responsible in ensuring all return to play guidelines are followed.

If drawn (home) teams are unable to secure a venue they will lose home advantage and the away team will be offered the opportunity to arrange a venue. If that team are also unable to secure a venue the Committee will arrange one.

The competitions will also be run similar to the Munster Club Championships whereby – where possible – the Committee will try to avoid a school having two away games in consecutive rounds. Any school who receives a bye in the competition will be ‘away’ in the next round.

The ‘A’ competitions will also be run on a provincial basis only. In that regard, those players still holding out some glimmer of hope of winning a Croke or Hogan Cup in 2020, that flame now appears to be firmly extinguished.

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