GAA dropped the ball and must shoulder blame for major issues at minor

Éamonn Murphy on the problem with U17 minor and why the GAA left its members down badly by not sorting the issue before now
GAA dropped the ball and must shoulder blame for major issues at minor

Sarsfields' second minor hurling team had an outstanding year, winning a C3 league and championship double.

AT the county convention, Cork delegates passed a board motion to move minor back to U18 but with decoupling in place, barring them from adult level.

That doesn’t mean those rules will in force in 2023, however. The GAA will make a decision collectively at congress next spring, which will then be implemented the following season.

It’s a ridiculous situation, of course, given the concerns about drop-off caused by the U17 minor grade. Earlier this year, the GAA promised to resolve the minor problem at a special congress in September, which they then failed to hold.

That was a dereliction of duty and it’s a real pity high-profile national media pundits didn’t invest as much into underage problems as they have in the split season. 

While bemoaning the loss of inter-county All-Ireland action in August and September to promote hurling and football they didn’t notice that secondary school students were being left without a proper programme of games beyond U17.

The minor issue has been debated heavily for two years now since the GAA pushed through the change across the board in early 2021. It was a reckless move without putting a proper structure in place for those coming out of minor. Rebel Óg were vehemently against it but had no choice but to accept the Central Council directive.

U19 was the solution but, inevitably, that crashed and burned in most counties because of the crossover with adult games, Leaving Cert, players’ holidays mid-summer and general apathy. Anyone with a cursory knowledge of GAA predicted as much.

The U21 grade produced terrific matches but it didn’t offer anything like a substantial diet of games. Yet at least it kept players engaged in GAA clubs even when they were heading off to college or into the working world. 

Beara's Eamon Jerh O'Sullivan gathers the ball from Valley Rovers' Sam Browne in the Rebel Óg U16 Premier 2 final. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Beara's Eamon Jerh O'Sullivan gathers the ball from Valley Rovers' Sam Browne in the Rebel Óg U16 Premier 2 final. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Changing from U14, U16, U18 and U21 as primary ages to U15, U17 and U19 was never going to work. Most U15s these days were only going into Third Year when their championships were winding down.

There’s no doubt the separation of minor grades from adult competitions was a success in terms of fixtures though. 

With no crossover, administrators were able to bring in round-robin formats across the board, even in a busy dual county like Cork.

While some questioned having championship operating from mid-July due to holidays, Rebel Óg provided matches in good weather and there weren’t any issues with getting finals finished in plenty of time before the winter.

The big debate on the horizon now isn’t whether minor goes back to U18, it’s if 18-year-olds should compete at adult level too.

The handful of elite players in every club are capable of an early step up, like Ben O’Connor with the Barrs or Dungourney’s Jack Leahy this season.

A comprise might see the best move on at 18 but no longer play minor but that could lead to underage teams not fielding in smaller clubs.

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