Rebel Óg reveal 2021 plans for Cork underage GAA from U12 to minor

Online meetings with Cork clubs will detail a guaranteed 11 games in each code for the new primary ages of U13 and U15
Rebel Óg reveal 2021 plans for Cork underage GAA from U12 to minor

Josh Ahern, Bride Rovers, breaking past Michael Roe of Midleton during their U16 P1 hurling championship final at Lisgoold last season. Picture: Dan Linehan

REBEL Óg are this week consulting with Cork clubs in a series of online meetings about the new fixture and age grades for underage this season. 

One representative from each club will attend, and while it won't be in a questions and answers format, clubs were invited to submit queries in advance.

Aside from the difficulties caused by the pandemic, it's been a testing period for the body that runs GAA from minor down in Rebel county. Some of their decisions have been heavily criticised by those on the ground with clubs, particularly for not putting leagues in place suited to cater to those with large numbers.

Last summer they opted to run competitions at U12, U14, U16 and minor only, pushing the U13 and U15 grades back to the winter, before Covid restrictions inevitably led to their cancellation. 

Then when proposals were sent out for 2021, the U13 and U15 levels were again overlooked, though clubs encouraged to enter extra teams an age up if required. 

Before the year was out, a decree from GAA centrally meant minor in Cork had to drop from U18 to U17, in line with the inter-county decision brought in for 2018. Back to the drawing board again for Rebel Óg.

In addition, U13 and U15 have now been deemed the primary grades instead of U14 and U16. A far from ideal situation for players born in 2005 and 2007, who missed out on proper leagues last year.

It constituted an enforced rejig of the structure in Cork, and Rebel Óg came under serious pressure from a host of Cork clubs who feel it's important to have teams at every age group. 

Thankfully, Rebel Óg came up with a plan that takes in every age. 

There will be competitions at U14 and U16, and a one-off U18 championship, albeit later in 2021, to cover the change at minor.

Not everyone is satisfied though.

At U14 and U16 there is no C3 tier for the clubs with big numbers who want to field second teams on the age, and only players born in 2007 and 2005 can tog out which makes it tricky for clubs with less than 20 players.

Again there's the option in place to enter additional U15 and minor teams for the likes of Douglas, Sars, Ballincollig and the other urban areas with booming populations, but streaming all those leagues will be tricky. 

It was up to clubs to decide how many teams to enter and you could have a scenario where one team is packed with strong U14s and goes against a team with a mix of U14s and U15s not in the club's first-team panel.

This problem undermined the U14 'development leagues' Rebel Óg had going last summer. 

To be fair to Rebel Óg, they are determined to provide a substantial programme of games for the priority ages of U13 and U15, with leagues of eight teams and round-robin championship groups of four.

That will give a minimum of 11 games in each code, and potentially another three if a team reached league and championship finals.

With U17 and U18 grades on the horizon, those will be championships, with no leagues in place. A pity, but understandable. The U12s will be regional and won't involve championships as has been the case for the past 10 years 

With a six-week exam break in May-June, which curtails activity from U15 to minor, the window for 2021 goes from late February to October, assuming lockdown is lifted. In actuality, it could be April before games are permitted, which will probably push competitions into November. 

Bantry's Paddy Cronin is dispossessed by Inniscarra's Jonathan Keane in the U16 P2 football decider in 2020. Picture: Gerard Bonus
Bantry's Paddy Cronin is dispossessed by Inniscarra's Jonathan Keane in the U16 P2 football decider in 2020. Picture: Gerard Bonus

Rebel Óg is adamant that by restricting the numbers of clubs at U14 and U16, they'll be able to schedule games at U14, U15 and U16 on the same day or consecutive days. 

The aim for U16s is to put on a series of Super 10 games at the same time as the U18 championship later this year, keeping those players active into the winter. 

Whenever the greenlight is given by the government for GAA to recommence there won't be any wiggle room. Second-level hurling and football is unlikely to take place, but there will be an inter-county minor championship in the spring and development squads will throw-in again.

A packed and uninterrupted 2021 would be welcomed by everyone of course.

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