The U20 All-Ireland Football Championship is expected to revert to a summer start in 2021, GAA president John Horan has admitted.
Plans to put early-year deadlines on the U20 competition, the Sigerson and Fitzgibbon Cups, as well as the post-primary championships were deferred for further consideration after a plea by GAA president Nickey Brennan.
With speakers from Tyrone, Mayo, and Tipperary speaking against the motion to stage the All-Ireland U20 FC in February and March, it appeared the proposal was on its way to a defeat, despite the competition being rescheduled.
As his U20s were in Ulster semi-final action against Antrim on Saturday, Tyrone delegate Benny Hurl had queried what was the real reason for the switch — costs, as it was initially claimed, or giving more space to the clubs in the summer and avoiding clashes with early-summer examinations.
Mayo chairman Liam Moffatt highlighted how his county and Galway’s U20s had to play their Connacht game in “terrible weather”.
Expected to be debated again at Special Congress in September, Horan agreed the championship will be a summer competition again.
“It has to now. The argument Conor O’Donoghue (fixtures review task-force member) was trying to make was it (moving to spring) was going to free up players. I saw it myself in my own club and Tyrone where clubs were decimated with having so many players tied up between the senior and U20 panel,” he said.
“Unfortunately, we have too many things woven into the calendar and everybody feels very sacrosanct about their own patch.”
As 16 teams in Division 2 and 3 are busy trying to avoid the newly-named Tailteann Cup (second-tier football championship), Horan confirmed that work will begin shortly on persuading counties that it is a competition worth winning.
“We will be putting a group together here between our communications and marketing, sponsorship, and media. We will put a package together on that in the next fortnight or three weeks, and then you will see it rolling out.”
There was some success for the GAA in convincing counties that there has to be some uniformity in terms of age grades.
“It gets simpler after today,” said GAA director general Tom Ryan. “It’s funny — the call all the time is for us to bring clarity, but if it is not the clarity, one particular county wants it poses another difficulty.
“What we have now is we have a policy in place, we have the latitude if we need to and the flexibility to change that policy if we need to. Counties have the option to field at underage grades that are optional in terms of the even ages. Some counties will do that. I think what we did today will hopefully put a lot of that unrest to bed.”
In his address on Saturday, Horan said the GAA and GPA need to work closer to alleviate the burden on inter-county players as soon as they agree a new funding deal. That should be done before the summer.
“The desire of both parties is to get it off the table and get working together, to sort some of the other issues that can only be solved really if we get together,” he said.