“Player welfare” was a key factor in the LGFA decision not to schedule All-Ireland championships at U14, U16, and U18 level for the season ahead, LGFA CEO Helen O’Rourke has said.
The LGFA has informed counties provincial championships can be organised at these age-grades up to the end of August, but for the second year in-a-row there will be no All-Ireland series at U14, U16, or minor level.
In a lengthy statement, LGFA CEO Helen O’Rourke said scheduling All-Ireland U14, U16, and minor championships would lead to underage players stepping inside the whitewash five days a week throughout July and August due to the overlapping of club and inter-county underage activity, a situation not conducive to player welfare.
With managers and county board personnel critical of the fact that an All-Ireland minor championship has been organised for male players but none for their female counterparts, O’Rourke said there is a “big difference” between underage GAA and underage LGFA.
The LGFA CEO said there are “very few boys” at U17 level playing adult football in comparison to the number of 16-18-year-olds who play adult ladies football.
Ladies football clubs, she added, “depend” on U16 and U18 players to field adult club teams.
The statement in full reads: “Over the past few days, we have received correspondence from a few county boards and some managers in relation to Underage All-Ireland Inter-County Championships this year, following on from our National Management’s decision not to have U14, 16 and Minor All-Ireland Championships.
“A number of factors were taken into consideration before LGFA Management reached their decision to prioritise club football while cognisant of the fact of providing an opportunity of playing inter-county underage competitions at provincial level only, if counties so desired. This is optional for each county.
“We took into consideration the health and safety of our players, their families, match officials and our voluntary members overseeing games while we still live with Covid-19 in our communities, as well as the shortened playing season. We also acknowledge concerns relayed to LGFA Management that many parents are not keen to allow their daughters to play sport for the month of May for trials or otherwise leading up to the Leaving Certificate or GCSE’s. A significant amount of schooling time has already been lost due to the pandemic. Players are also feeling the pressure of revised exams and even in a normal year would be reluctant to participate in the final month prior to exams.
“We have a very short season to play club and county underage games, taking the month of June out of the equation due to state exams. In effect, you have July and August to play underage club and county.
“When county and club activity is back in full action, underage players could find themselves out 4-5 days per week. County managers would be seeking for them to train 2-3 times per week, and when you factor in club training and games, it is not a situation conducive to player welfare.
“Many of the players in these age groups are dual players with their Ladies Football and Camogie clubs. In a normal year, this activity would be spread out over a greater number of months, but with the delayed return players would be asked for this commitment continuously until their county exited, with the possibility of being caught between club and county. Similar to the adult player, it was essential to have an end point for inter-county activity as September is identified as the window for club activity only.
“The Government has highlighted their aim to have all third level institutions reopened as close to normal as possible in September. Many of our players at minor grade may be going to colleges, many away from their own county, so again it was to ensure all competitions are complete at inter-county level.
“What is most important is that every player at club level receives meaningful football over the coming months following a long absence from the sport and that the windows of opportunity are provided for both. The inter-county window cannot be left open ended or extended to the detriment of the 98% of the remaining club players.
“However, we felt that it was important to give counties the opportunity to play in an inter-county competition at provincial level if feasible, taking into account safety and adequately catering for our club players.
“There have been numerous comparisons made to the GAA. There is a big difference between underage GAA and underage Ladies Football, in the effect that games have on club underage and adult football. There are very few boys at U17 level playing adult football in comparison to the number of 16-to-18-year old’s that play adult Ladies Football.
“Ladies Football clubs depend on U16 and U18 players to field adult club teams, and the same applies with U14’s for our clubs to field U16 and 18 teams.
“It is hoped that this helps to clarify the situation in relation to our decision not to proceed to All Ireland level for inter-county underage activity and at the same time provide counties with an opportunity to play county football at provincial level if the relevant county boards so wish. Unlike 2020, due to government restrictions county underage managers did not have the opportunity to hold trials or select players prior to activity recommencing on 10th May.
“We did feel it was important to ensure there was inter-county underage activity available for players and hence this will take place in each province where all counties are still involved unlike a few counties remaining at All Ireland stages.
“It is essential to note that players are getting the opportunity to represent their counties throughout the provincial championship if they so wish, and it is only the All-Ireland stages - semi-finals and finals - that are not taking place, which would only involve four teams at each grade A and B across Under 14, 16 and 18 level.
“Club football will be provided for our underage girls in their relevant age groups, and, for many clubs, at least one age group above their own. Counties are being encouraged to provide as much club football as possible to all players following a long period of inactivity for everyone involved.”