U21 clubs ruling strikes at the GAA’s heart

What was so arresting about Michael Cohen’s appearance in front of a House Intelligence Committee in Washington last week was his claims about how Donald Trump likes to get things done.

He “doesn’t give orders,” claimed his former personal lawyer, whom the US president dismissed as “a rat”.

“He speaks in code. And I understand that code.”

Believe Cohen and Trump’s playbook is straight out of Cosa Nostra but power can so often be subtle. Closer to home, Central Council exhibited a similar sleight of hand in dealing with their cruel interpretation that U17s can’t play U21 for their clubs.

Rather than reject Clare, Cork, Galway, Limerick, Kerry, and Tipperary who all found fault with their reading of a rule which was changed not to disenfranchise U17s but actually give counties more authority as regards their age grades, they suggested they seek a deviation of the rule for the year, ie code for “you get your way, the problem goes away for 2019 and we save face”.

How Central Council thought in their right minds that their interpretation was what delegates intended when they voted in the rewording of Rule 6.17 last year is extraordinary. The deviation might well have been a get-out clause for central GAA powers who had enough difficulties last year to last them a decade. Had a club or even a county made a request for the Disputes Resolution Authority (DRA) to arbitrate on the matter, things could have become quite hairy for Central Council.

Tulla club member Karl Quinn, a barrister, contacted the Irish Examiner last week to explain his view that U17s were entitled to play U21 for their clubs.

“I believe that this is an incorrect interpretation of the rule in relation to eligibility for U21 club hurling,” he wrote of Central Council’s interpretation. “I believe the Ard Chomhairle has made a mistake in its interpretation of this rule. I believe a player must be aged 16 (or over) on 1st January of the relevant championship year to play U21 club.

“In my opinion, the Rules Advisory Committee have quoted parts of the club rule, (a five-year span), and the inter-county rule, (celebrated his 17th birthday prior to January 1). The combination of these two rules is not accurate. Furthermore, Ard Chomhairle has given an interpretation of the rule but without any explanation. The Ard Chomhairle interpretation is also incorrect.”

Whether that was the case, we’re unlikely to ever find out but we do know just how awkward their judgement last Saturday week made life for clubs. In the North Tipperary U21 B final, Ballina boldly chose to include their U17 players defying Central Council’s edict. Kilruane McDonaghs, fearing insurance wouldn’t cover an injury, didn’t and were forced to reveal to players after they had finished school, just hours before the game, that they would not be playing in the final.

The interpretation wasn’t just upsetting the small club but rural and even town ones like Mallow.

As Glanworth secretary David O’Sullivan remarked on Twitter before the deviation: “Dear Central Council, if you’re trying to kill off rural clubs, please continue the way you’re going Changing U21 from a 5 to 4 year age gap is hurting all small clubs — immediately. We’re due to play on Sunday, 15 a side with a panel of 20 players. We now have 14.”

At Congress, there was several reminders how the GAA has all but divorced adult from the under-age game. It’s a badge of honour the organisation now wears proudly as they demonstrated when the handful of attempts to change the age grades by clubs and counties were easily shot down.

One of those failed motions came from Valentia Young Islanders, close to extinction as an autonomic club, who had proposed a 16-year-old could play adult football or hurling in non-Championship and only at junior grade where the club fields one team. Kildare withdrew their proposal in support of it but Valentia’s cry for help was ignored.

As it was explained to us afterwards, a 16-year-old marking a 35-year-old isn’t exactly fair for either party and as GAA president John Horan mentioned before rural depopulation isn’t a problem caused by the GAA.

However, Valentia’s proposal couldn’t have been more nuanced to their plight and those of others suffering.

By granting a deviation on the U21 club rule, Central Council also didn’t need to call an emergency meeting as was the case when they gave the green light for the Liam Miller game at Páirc Uí Chaoimh last year. But if there was ever a reason to call everyone in from home and abroad it was this matter, a ruling that strikes at the heart of what the GAA should be about: Playing games. Not playing games with words but actually playing.

Money to blame for fixtures pile-up

After seeing his charges beat Tipperary last month, Wexford manager Davy Fitzgerald highlighted the financial incentive attached to finishing in the top four of Division 1A.

“If you get a budget for a team to work with and you get them to a quarter-final, that might extend your budget by €20,000 or €30,000. That’s a big chunk of change if you can do it,” he said.

As Limerick found to their cost in the past as they were stuck in Division 1B, the league is a more lucrative business than the All-Ireland championships.

Most will blame what happened on Sunday on the weather, while some will argue the GAA need to overhaul their fixture schedule to avoid such situations, but money was a major determining factor in yesterday’s news that the Division 1 final will be pushed back for the second season in a row.

More than once the Central Competitions Control Committee (CCCC) has recommended the Division 1 quarter-finals be axed to free up a weekend, only for counties to insist on them remaining. They are an ugly feature of the current structure; anybody who believes the teams placed seventh to 10th should be rewarded ahead of those who finish fifth and sixth and that Limerick and Laois is a clash worthy of a quarter-final needs their head examined. Quarter-finals are even included in the 2020 redrafting of Division 1 with the second and third-placed teams from the two groups facing off to earn semi-finals spots against the group winners.

It’s that appetite to make extra cash that handed the CCCC the unenviable task of completing the last six match-days over six weekends. Inter-county hurling needs a breather — but when counties are blinded, what hope is there?

Six weekend takes

  • Frees cost Clare again, the two late fouls by Rory Hayes providing Aaron Gillane with the chance to secure Limerick top spot in Division 1A. Again, the Banner were “outfreed”, Limerick scoring eight to their six.
  • Armagh midfielder Stephen Sheridan’s stamp on Donegal’s Eoghan Bán Gallagher was an act of thuggery. He can’t be seen to get away with an act that could have broken Gallagher’s leg.
  • Limerick boss John Kiely played down his heated moments with Clare co-manager Donal Moloney on the sideline but it re-emphasises the need for the GAA to take control of the whitewash. The sideline remains too populated and managers too free in their movements.
  • It’s early March, the cuckoo has yet to arrive but just how many players outside David Clifford who haven’t featured yet will make the Kerry Championship match-day panel? Of the Dr Crokes crew, Gavin White, Micheál Burns and Shane Murphy should push in and James O’Donoghue too, but things are already looking cramped.
  • Only Dublin are psychologically stronger than Mayo but the last two weekends have shown up frailties in the collective mindset of James Horan’s group. As much as he has been able to experiment, losing again to their two biggest rivals doesn’t exhibit progress.
  • So one if not two Munster teams should plummet to Division 3 next year and Cork, for all the good the win in Tipperary will have done them, face Ulster opposition in their final two rounds. Will Munster soon replace Leinster as the poorest football province?

Email: john.fogarty@examiner.ie

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