Cork GAA's new U19 grade to bridge gap from senior with U21 defunct

Minor has dropped to U17 across the country and with U21 competition unable to provide sufficient games, a new format is needed for players aged 18 and 19
Cork GAA's new U19 grade to bridge gap from senior with U21 defunct

Blackrock's Peter Linehan shoots from Glen Rovers Eoghan Varian and Sean Cronin during the recent Rebel Óg U18 P1 final. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

ONE of the biggest challenges facing the GAA going into 2022 and beyond is the provision of proper structured competition to fill the void between minor and adult football and hurling.

Currently, minor is U17 and the move to drop the U21 grade by a year to U20 is supposed to help in bridging that gap, but there are detractors.

In his annual report to last weekend’s remote Convention, Cork secretary, Kevin O’Donovan, sounded the death-knell for the once-popular club U21 championships.

“It is now clear that grade has passed its sell-by-date as a token few games annually cannot meet the needs of the most vulnerable age group to drop-out, namely the 18-19-year-old,” he informed delegates.

Ballinora's David Lehane is tackled by Valley Rovers' Conor Cremin in a Rebel Óg U18 final. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Ballinora's David Lehane is tackled by Valley Rovers' Conor Cremin in a Rebel Óg U18 final. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

O’Donovan highlighted the need for ‘a transitionary age-group between youth and adulthood’ and he said the solution was simple.

“An U19 league and championship grade to be played on Wednesday nights, ensuring no clash with adult or U17 games at the weekend. It would be organised by the county board based on the gradings and structures in place at under-age levels, namely the regions and the Premier 1, 2, A, B and C grades.” 

It would mean Rebel Og’s involvement stops at U17.

“Meanwhile, if the 20- or 21-year-old cannot be served appropriately by their club’s adult teams, then there will be a requirement for change, either within club or within adult competition structures,” O’Donovan added.

Former Meath great Colm O’Rourke spoke about the matter as well on radio at the weekend and he’s well-placed to comment because of his role as a secondary school principal and his involvement at club level.

RTÉ pundit Colm O'Rourke says there is no simple solution to bridging the gap between minor and adult. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
RTÉ pundit Colm O'Rourke says there is no simple solution to bridging the gap between minor and adult. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

There’s a suggestion that the U17 grade will come up for discussion again at next year’s Congress in February with a proposal to change minor once more, this time to U19.

“I could understand the original decision to switch to U17 because players weren’t studying for the Leaving Cert and they were also prevented from playing in adult teams in their clubs,” O’Rourke said.

He added there was no ‘straight forward’ solution and while O’Rourke offered the opinion that a return to U18 might be the best way forward, that too, is problematic.

“U18s are usually in Leaving Cert year and with the provincial minor championships set to start in March next, there is an obvious conflict between schools and county managers over access to players.

“That leads to friction and normally it’s to the detriment of the player, who is being asked to train with both school and county in the same week with obvious injury links, as well.

“To my mind, it needs strong guidelines over access to players at certain times during the season and one way to monitor this would be the appointment of player welfare officers who’d have control and power.

“Even now, I’d imagine most minor county teams have started their preparations,” he said.

O’Rourke’s thinking on club U20 and U21 competitions runs along the same lines as O’Donovan’s.

These competitions are an after-thought really, because they only started in my own county last weekend, when Friday night, especially, was no night for playing football due to the weather.”

Neighbours Kildare have taken a different approach with the introduction of an U23 championship.

“Maybe that’s the way forward with minor at U19, but there is no simple solution,” O’Rourke concluded.

LEAGUE LIMITS

The second installment of the new championship format in Cork has been received almost overwhelmingly by all involved.

It was a point taken up O’Donovan, who praised the revamp and that the decision of the clubs to embrace change was now bearing fruit.

But leagues are a cause for concern, he added, and O’Donovan believes a reduction in the number of games played by clubs is the best way forward.

With at least three championship games now guaranteed for all teams, it will be necessary to trim the number of games annually.

“All league groups should have a maximum of 10 teams with nine league games annually and single code clubs could be provided with extra games through Tom Creedon Cup or a hurling equivalent, such as the Liam Breathnach.”

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