THE Ladies Gaelic Football Association is quoted as being an “organisation which endeavours to reach into communities in Ireland and internationally to promote Ladies Gaelic Football," but this advocacy is now halted by a ruling that will affect two rural West Cork teams significantly.
In 2018 the Muintir Bhaire (Durrus) and Gabriel Rangers (Balllydehob/Schull) ladies’ teams were in serious trouble due to the declining number of players both clubs had an adult female level. The decision was then made to amalgamate the two clubs, as the parishes themselves border each other making it a sensible choice to save the junior teams, thus creating Muintir Gabriels.
Progress was slow at the beginning of this journey with both sets of players trying to get used to one another, but by 2019 Muintir Gabriel’s were lifting their first trophy after beating O’Donovan Rossa in the West Cork LGFA Division 3 final.
Since then, the integrated team has been competing in Junior D competition in Cork County which has proved challenging to get out of, but now the team face an even tougher test off the field of play.
The amalgamated club was informed in January by the LGFA and Cork County Board that as of this year, joint clubs were no longer allowed to play at a junior level and if two junior clubs were amalgamated, they must move to the intermediate grade.
This rule obviously applies to Muintir Gabriels, who have developed and grown as a joint enterprise for the past five years. They now face a jump of four grades if they wish to continue together.
For anyone that is aware of GAA and the competitiveness at junior level never mind a complete jump up a rank to intermediate, then you will understand the seriousness of this issue for the club that covers two isolated areas.
There are two options, with the first choice being to disband both clubs by an EGM majority and then to establish a new club under the same name, including the two catchment areas. The alternate, which was not even considered by the clubs, was to enter one club into the junior competition and for the other club to provide four players with permission to play.
All the rest of the players left out by this decision would have to join other clubs in the West Cork area.
A meeting between players and management took place shortly after the news broke to the ladies committee and it was obvious that this ruling was a complete shock. The only way for the team to continue playing together after five years of development is to jump up four grades to intermediate.
This decision will completely disturb the players and management of this ladies team, who were given two weeks to make a choice on the future of both clubs.
If the LGFA are attempting to promote the game, would they not be better off trying to keep ladies playing GAA rather than forcing clubs to play at a level they are not comfortable in?
This ruling is only affecting Muintir Gabriels as the only other amalgamated club in Cork county, Funcheon Gaels, reverted to their original clubs of Kildorrery and Mitchelstown.
Both areas of Kildorrey and Mitchelstown are massive in comparison to Mizen and Sheep’s Head peninsulas which struggle every single year to field teams of all age groups.
Muintir Gabriels have been backed into a corner with the only solution for now being to play intermediate ladies’ football in 2023, but at what cost to the players and management?
This is one of the most ludicrous statements to ever come from LGFA and the Cork County Board, who understand the issues rural clubs have with fielding teams and attempting to be competitive at their own levels.
Rather than promoting Ladies GAA, it feels like the powers at be are leading this amalgamated club like lambs to slaughter after forcing them to make a monumental choice, which will change the future of the club forever.
Is that fair?