Sometimes you just wonder at the goings on along the GAA’s marble corridors of power.
There have been a few spectacular own goals lately. It really makes me wonder what it is all about.
Charging U16s into watch games and adding another tenner onto All-Ireland tickets.
A once fantastic association that used to grip into every crevice of Irish society, doesn’t have the same hold on what Christy Moore used to sing about, ‘the ordinary man’.
When I say this, I think of the endless numbers of men and women, across Ireland, who are the foundation everything that rests above.
A lot have walked away. They may never come back.
As someone said to me a few weeks ago about the late Colum Rocks. Who are going to replace his like when they have moved on? That person was spot on.
I used to defend the nay-sayers who spoke of the Grab All Association. But the recent shenanigans are impossible to defend.
The void between the top and rest of us is wide enough to sound the most deafening of warning sirens.
The fact that 23 delegates (out of 48) voted to keep a well-intended hand pass rule that overburdened already overworked referees and the full 48 voted to raise ticket prices, tells us all we need to know.
But, it gets worse. At GAA Congress in Wexford at the end of the month, a motion – if passed – will shorten the lifespan of underage. The very breeding ground for Ireland’s GAA of tomorrow.
As of 2020, underage club competitions will move to U13, U15 and U17, from what currently exists. New Ulster GAA Vice-President Ciaran McLaughlin presented the proposals to clubs at Owenbeg on Wednesday night.
Think about it for a moment. What does it actually mean?
This year could bring the last ever Derry minor championship and at the end of the season all minor players – except U16s who are playing a grade above themselves – will be moving into the senior ranks.
As I said, just think about that. And the Derry delegates need to reflect on what it will mean for the majority of our players.
It’s okay if you are an Alex Doherty, an Enda Downey or a Conleth McShane who are custom ready for the senior club teams.
What about the rest. The majority. What are they supposed to do?
In my view, the value of underage is split three ways. Firstly to give the youth of a parish a social and physical outlet. Secondly, for teams to compete for titles and harness a competitive edge.
But thirdly, it provides the raw materials for club senior teams. Yet, we are on the verge of deleting the final year of development with the stroke a pen, or the pushing of a button.
Please let there be a saviour out there. For county boards to see sense.
As I see it, the only person who will benefit from this ruling is the county minor manager and the fixture planner. And frankly, who can blame them.
Last season Derry minor supremo Paddy Campbell had to tailor his preparations around club U16 and minor teams, with Stephen Barker having to factor the scenario in. No easy task in both cases.
Other than those down South feathering their own nest in terms of the leaving cert, there is no reason why the status quo can’t be returned. To U14, U16 and U18.
“What about the skinny lad who doesn’t make this year’s minor team. What is he going to do in 2020? What level of meaningful playing activity can your club offer him?”
Did the GAA hierarchy ever hear of things called the junior cert, GCSEs and the increasing number of modules examined in lower sixth?
And that by putting in an U20 championship into the May/June window last year, it clashed with both A-Levels and university exams.
Crazy goings on. It hardly lowered the playing workload of students.
To me, accommodating the leaving cert is the only reason why these changes are being rolled out.
God only knows how officialdom will deal with the outcome of Brexit – and I am the last person to offer Brexit advice - and how any common denominator in the education system is embraced or ostracised.
The other unspoken advantage of the U17 grade is that it takes ‘county minor’ players out of the equation for club senior football and allows fixtures to run smoothly.
All that does is play into the hands of the inter-county game, so it has a smoother path, while everyone else grapples their way around in the dark.
The new proposed U13, U15 and U17 grade structure stinks of elitism. Of lessening the work load on the top players, but the greater price is astronomical. It gives our youth a get-out clause. To jump free of the good old ship GAA.
If you are in a junior or an intermediate club, you may progress straight to the club senior team, whether you are ready for it or not. You will be battered and bruised, but at least you’ll get a game.
If you are an average underage player or perhaps the late developer in a big club. You will disappear like the proverbial snow off a ditch. There won’t be a starting jersey for you and with reserve football not what it once was, there will be no attraction.
Fair enough, some with a desire may bide their time and battle their way onto the senior team but not enough will.
The real winners will be local soccer and rugby teams who offer a game every single week, at whatever level. Or the economy of the Bronx or of Bondi, when our once vibrant youth take themselves across the pond in search of a summer of memories.
Some will return, some won’t. A regular GAA season is often the vice that stopped the haemorrhaging of the best talent overseas.
Oliver Short outlined to me one time about Crossmaglen’s underage target of producing four players in every minor team capable of playing senior football.
Some years they managed it and others they didn’t achieve it. It’s not a bad barometer, one that all clubs should write into their charter.
But if the GAA get their way, club underage plans have hamstrung before they even start. One year less development time is seismic.
Tyrone are muted to be putting a different proposal of aligning underage club with school year. U12.5, 14.5, U16.5 and U18.5 etc. Perhaps a better option.
Within the next week, every club in Derry - and indeed Ireland - should conduct the following study.
Pool all your underage coaches, the chairperson and youth officer in a room.
Jot down a list of your 2019 minor team. Beside them, outline how many will start the senior team next season. How many have the physique to blossom in the reserves until they find their feet?
What about the skinny lad who doesn’t make this year’s minor team. What is he going to do in 2020? What level of meaningful playing activity can your club offer him? Next to none.
These are the types of questions that need asked or answered. Otherwise we are failing a generation. And for what? You tell me.
The players in their first year of minor will await the outcome of congress. Yet, they have zero say. They are irrelevant.
The ball rests in clubs’ court. It’s time to serve an injunction on this proposal.
The GAA’s longevity depends on it. With no youth, there is no tomorrow.
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