AFL chiefs are prepared to ban the recruitment of young GAA stars below the age of 19 and will consider a request to cap the number of players who could be signed by Australian clubs.
Joint discussions between the two organisations at AFL headquarters in the Telstra Dome yesterday also resulted in an agreement in principle to continue with the International Rules Series. Dates for two tests in Ireland next year (one likely at an Ulster venue) were announced, as well as the intention to have a break before the resumption of a two-year cycle in 2011/2012.
Agreeing that the GAA had raised “very legitimate” issues, AFL chief Andrew Dimetriou emphasised the value of a mutually beneficial relationship between the two, without which, he claimed, “they wouldn’t care” about GAA concerns.
GAA President Nickey Brennan said they had come to the table with “a very strong view” on the question of raising the age bracket and on the imposition of a quota.
While the issue of agents coming to Ireland and organising recruitment camps was causing concern at home, Brennan stressed the GAA had no right under law to stop Irish players joining AFL clubs.
Said the AFL chief: “The issue which the GAA raised today is one which resonates with us. They would prefer that the age limit be looked at by the AFL and be increased to 19 which would (also) allow young Irish lads to complete their schooling, particularly with the transition year which is not common in Australia.
“I think it is a very legitimate and valid issue that’s being raised and I assured Nickey and Paraic (Duffy) we will take it away, discuss with our clubs and of course our commission and come back to the GAA.
“Capping a quota is also a legitimate issue. We assured them we view this issue very seriously and we have taken on board the concerns of the GAA and the counties and the clubs.”
He continued: “Our international scholarship scheme precludes our clubs from approaching 15-year-olds from Ireland, but they can sign up 15-year-olds outside of our draft from any other country outside of Australia. We have clubs at the moment that are signing young lads from Fiji and looking at South Africa. That rule does not apply to Ireland and we wanted to provide some comfort to the GAA. We have done that on the basis of the concerns that have been raised on previous occasions, which we will discuss with our stakeholders.”
Dimitreiou said no agents operating in Ireland spoke on their behalf. He offered the assurance that any decisions on recruitment policy will be made by the AFL and not by a third party.
“We do want to work with the GAA to have an effective way where people are accepting of the fact that Irish lads can leave Ireland and play in Australia and be successes at what they do. And, if we can help on issues that the GAA have raised today, then we’ll certainly do our best to do so.
“The players’ welfare and their education are paramount. We have gone to extraordinary lengths to make sure that players enter the system leave as better individuals and that they have the benefit of some of our programmes. We need to invest more heavily in the welfare of young players to make sure that their experience of Australia is one that they enjoy.”
Meanwhile Brennan said that the GAA reserved the right to re-consider a reciprocal tour to Ireland by Australia next year if there is any ill discipline in tomorrow’s second test at the MCG.
“It’s half time in every sense of the word,” he commented. “We expect that the tempo will rise but we’re very confident that both teams realise the manner in which it has to be played but there’s a line which we hope nobody will cross.”
Dimetriou is also optimistic for the future of the Series: “We’re looking forward to going to Ireland next year to help the GAA celebrate their 125th year.
“What was utmost in our minds when we wanted the series to continue was that, regardless of the outcome, it was important we maintain a relationship with the GAA which we value very highly. And, it’s because of that relationship we can have these conversations and that’s a huge advantage.
“If the GAA raise an issue which is very serious to them about the recruitment of Irish players, we can only have a constructive dialogue because we have a relationship. If we didn’t have a relationship I don’t think we would care. We have never shied away from the fact that we have a lot to learn from other codes and every time we meet with the GAA we take something away we can put in our code.
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