GAA decision on 2021 underage grades will have major impact on Cork clubs

GAA decision on 2021 underage grades will have major impact on Cork clubs

Darragh Long, Glanmire, battles Shane Aherne, Douglas, in this year's Rebel Óg P1 minor football final.  Picture: Jim Coughlan.

REBEL Óg will have to change their main grades of championship after the GAA decided centrally that U13, U15 and U17 must be the primary competitions for 2021 instead of U14, U16 and U18.

The GAA dropped U18 and U21 to U17 and U20 in recent years, with Cork's inter-county teams still in U17 hurling and football action this winter, along with the U20 hurlers, while the U20 footballers were All-Ireland champions last year.

Cork, and a number of other counties, had been slow to alter the club grades and the understanding was they wouldn't have to make that move until the 2022 season. Now they have to go back to the drawing board for next year and are considering running U19 hurling and football championships for players who will otherwise miss out if 'minor' is U17 instead of U18. 

The logic behind moving inter-county minor to U17 was that it removed clashes with adult competitions, as only U18s are allowed line out for their club's senior teams. 

St Finbarr's Ethan Twomey takes on Castlehaven's Jack Cahalane during the Rebel Óg Premier 2 semi-final at Clonakilty. A new U19 age grade next season would feature those players. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
St Finbarr's Ethan Twomey takes on Castlehaven's Jack Cahalane during the Rebel Óg Premier 2 semi-final at Clonakilty. A new U19 age grade next season would feature those players. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

The reality is that the majority of young players aren't needed by adult club teams when they're only turning 18 and need time to mature and competitions to help bridge the gap. Therefore Cork GAA has a duty to accommodate hurlers and footballers who are U18 in 2021, many of whom will still be in secondary school.

Adding to their frustration, all school sport is currently in limbo.

There are questions about what happens from here with U21/U20 for clubs, which didn't go ahead in Cork this season because of Covid. There will hardly be room for U19 and U21? Stronger U19 players like Jack Cahalane, Ethan Twomey and Daniel Hogan will be in high demand across numerous teams. 

Would a one-off U18 grade, along with an U17 minor competition, be viable for 2021? 

The board that runs underage GAA affairs in Cork had already announced they were prioritising the more traditional ages for next season, which had led to heavy criticism from a number of clubs who felt given the size of the county, Cork needed to retain competitions at every level, U12, U13, U14, U15, U16 and minor, even if that was just leagues in certain categories.

Rebel Óg had refused to budge on their decision, which will force clubs to combine two age-groups even when they have large numbers. They are permitted to enter up to four teams, which would cover larger clubs like Douglas, Sars/Glanmire, Ballincollig, Carrigaline and Midleton, but that creates issues in how to stream players and will divide them from team-mates they've been with since U5.

That problem remains, even as U15 and U17 grades supersede U14 and U16. Indeed it's frustrating for players born in 2007 and 2005 as due to Covid, Rebel Óg didn't offer proper U13 and U15 competitions for them this summer.

Ballincollig U13 manager Kevin Kirstein and his son Daniel with the Bill O'Keeffe Memorial Cup.
Ballincollig U13 manager Kevin Kirstein and his son Daniel with the Bill O'Keeffe Memorial Cup.

Plans for leagues in October for those teenagers were halted when the government upped restrictions, which also forced U14 'Development League' finals to be called off.

News broke recently that Féile was being shifted from U14 to U15, which was a signal the GAA were going to formally change the main age categories for every county.

How the new Féile will operate is up for discussion, with a suggestion all clubs will get to play outside their county, as opposed to just local champions. That is likely to be on a regional basis as opposed to a national Féile but logistically will take a job of work to co-ordinate.

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