THE last year, indeed two years, have been difficult ones for everybody.
Rebel Óg, who run underage GAA games right across Cork is no exception to this as they have had to deal with two shortened seasons.
No matter what they do someone will not be happy as they bid to keep hundreds of clubs and thousands of players and mentors playing games.
Ahead of this year’s season, they had plans made but they were scuppered by a decision made at national level.
It was well known the age groups were changing, with the main ages now deemed U13, U15, and U17, with U18 removed completely.
However, Rebel Óg asked for, and initially were granted, an exemption for the 2021 season. Their plan was to ease it in this year and have it up and running for 2022.
Among the reasons they wanted to do this was to give clubs a chance to get used to the change and also so that players who were too old for U17 but still young enough for U18 would not lose out.
Unfortunately, as they well into planning games they were informed that they had to change to the ‘new’ ages. At that point, they sought to run a U18 competition on a one-off basis and eventually this was granted.
Another problem they faced was that now U16 and U14 were secondary ages, which meant a major mindset change for Rebel Óg and the clubs involved.
It also meant that some tough decisions had to be made, ones that caused a lot of debate and dissatisfaction with some clubs. They, rightly, were not happy at U16 getting secondary competition status.
Neither were Rebel Óg but the instruction had come from Croke Park and to a certain degree, their hands were tied.
Tough and difficult decisions had to be made, ones that meant clubs had to play players ‘ on the age’ at both U16 and U14 levels, thus limiting the number of clubs that could play at these ages.
Clubs were far from happy with this decision and it led to some conflict between them and the board. Unfortunately, an in-person meeting was not allowed at this stage. Had one happened the chances are this matter would have been resolved in some manner.
All may not have been happy with the overall outcome but the lack of meetings didn’t help in this matter. The issue lingered for some time but in the end, the decision was made and stood by.
So revised plans were worked upon and then the news all feared was announced by the government, that the pandemic would see no games starting for some time, and at that stage, it was unclear if games would go ahead at all.
This led to months of uncertainty and with every passing week, it was becoming harder and harder for a full programme of games to be played, not just in GAA but also in other sports.
Games eventually got the go-ahead in mid-June and from here to the end of the season congratulations have to go to all involved, from officers of Rebel Óg, across all the regions, clubs, mentors, and the players themselves.
Between then and the end of the season in the last week or two, more than 5,200 games were played from U12 to U18 level, which averages out at 200 a week. There aren’t too many organisations that would have to try and sort that volume of games in any one week.
But that was the task of Rebel Óg officers and representatives of the clubs as they met on a regular basis to try and sort.
In their annual report to convention Rebel Óg stated: “All age groups were catered for and this did cause some problems for clubs with schedules, referees, pitches with adults, juveniles ladies football and camogie all running games across this condensed period of time.”
It is to the credit of all that the schedule was completed, even getting in a minor football final from 2020 that had fallen victim to the pandemic.
It led to some great games and at U16 level, a championship was completed late in the year on a knock-out basis. Ideally, it would have had a round-robin series of ties but time was against that.
The finals were held at Bishopstown GAA Club, with four football one weekend and four hurling on another. There were other great finals along the way at minor and U15 levels.
The season was a difficult one but in the end, it was a successful one. But Rebel Óg and the clubs will always be striving to improve competitions and structures.
Ideally, championships would be run at all ages from U14 up but the pandemic and the number of weeks available will have a say in that. All will be hoping that the successes of this year can be built on and improved on further in 2022.