Former Dublin footballer Ger Brennan is fearful scheduling changes to the Sigerson Cup and All-Ireland U20 football championship could lead to young players dropping out of college.
In a bid to free up third-level players for the Allianz football league, Croke Park have decided to squeeze the 2020 Sigerson Cup into a much smaller timeframe than recent editions of the third-level football competition.
Throwing in on the weekend of January 11/12, and with the backdoor element removed, the Sigerson Cup will conclude two and a half weeks later on January 29.
The All-Ireland U20 football championship, meanwhile, which was run off during the months of June, July, and August this year, will have an early February start in 2020.
Two-time All-Ireland medal winner Brennan, who is in his fifth year as University College Dublin GAA executive, has described the changes as “illogical”.
He firmly believes Croke Park top-brass no longer value the role or importance of the GAA in third-level institutions.
“UCD have roughly 600 students involved in Gaelic games, that includes 42 student coaches and administrators. We field 19 teams and also have a handball club. We are a massive presence in the biggest university in the country.
“You only have to walk into CIT, where you have someone like Keith Ricken overseeing matters, or UCC [to realise that] most students would be lost without having a GAA club to go to. I imagine a lot of them would definitely fall out of college,” said Brennan.
“It is just total ignorance from the GAA’s higher powers. They have totally ignored the reality of life for the third-level GAA officer who is trying to promote our games in universities and add value to the student experience.
“We use the term student-athlete in UCD. A guy is a student first, he’s an athlete, hurler, or footballer second.
“Around 30% of third-level institutions have their exams after Christmas in January. What you are doing by squeezing the Sigerson Cup into January is you are putting immense pressure on the student during this period.”
It will be much the same story for U20 footballers in February.
Those still in secondary school will have their Leaving Cert mocks to contend with at the same time as the U20 championship is throwing-in, while U20 players at third-level will be just finished their post-Christmas exams and an All-Ireland freshers championship which is being shoehorned into a near three-and-a-half-week period.
“There is a lot good about the GAA, but I just don’t know why, with regard to Sigerson and U20 football, they have decided to change it again and squeeze the life out of young players who are going to be absolutely knackered both physically and mentally.
“They’ll be chasing their tails academically, they’ll be chasing their tails playing for the universities, and they’ll be chasing their tails playing for their respective U20 teams.
“The players are the only ones who are going to suffer here.”
The Sigerson Cup was played across a 36-day window earlier this year.
Brennan’s preference would have been to leave it untouched for the moment, along with the summer running of the U20 football championship, and instead wait for the recommendations of the fixtures review taskforce which GAA president John Horan established at the beginning of summer.
“[Hierarchy] are moving one cog in a huge machine without really giving heed or proper planning to the effects on another part of that same machine. And there are consequences the whole time.
“Between the GPA, CPA, and the other different stakeholders involved, there needed to be more time given to coming up with a satisfactory season plan that incorporates and values the different competitions accordingly.
“A plan that takes the pressure off students having to be driving up and down the road non-stop and fellas failing exams or fellas suffering injuries, dropping out of college, whatever, because they are so knackered and fatigued. It is just not good.
“I am not sure who is pulling the strings or what the agenda is here. It is not working out anyway. You are putting the cart before the horse the whole time. For one, I’d start the national league a little later.”
Another committee put together by John Horan, and chaired by former All-Ireland winning Kilkenny coach Michael Dempsey, was asked to review the youth/player development pathway at inter-county level. Brennan, along with CIT GAA development officer and All-Ireland U20 winning manager Ricken, met with the committee to outline the value of the GAA at third-level.
Their input and the views of many other third-level GAA officers stands in total contradiction to the scheduling changes subsequently imposed.
“That report, I don’t think it even got a chance to be read by the GAA hierarchy, whether that be the Central Competitions Control Committee (CCCC) or Central Council or whomever. It appears this report was commissioned as a box-ticking exercise and hierarchy were going to do what they wanted to do anyway. Lip service was paid to the third-level institutions.
“If you look at the evidence that is there, the GAA hierarchy just want the senior and fresher third-level championships out of the way as quickly as possible. What is the reason for all this? I’d give an educated guess that it probably comes down to money and what sort of revenue third-level brings in for Croke Park as a whole.
“From their point of view, the attitude is to get these competitions out of the way and then we can focus on the real stuff — the senior inter-county competitions. That is what the GAA hierarchy are all about, in my opinion.”