Finding the most suitable age grades for players in the 17-20 bracket is the “most urgent and important issue” facing the GAA at present, Cork county board secretary Kevin O’Donovan has said.
In light of the age grade proposals circulated by Croke Park two weeks ago, Cork GAA will hold two special meetings later this month to reach a consensus on the majority view of Cork clubs as to what age minor should be set at.
The three options recently laid out by the Croke Park taskforce relating to age grades at club level are retention of U17 as the minor age grade, revert to U18, or amend national policy so that individual counties who wish to revert to U18 can do so.
Cork GAA will hold an information session for clubs at Páirc Uí Chaoimh next Tuesday, October 11, with the second meeting on October 25 to decide the preferred age grade of Cork clubs.
In between the October 11 and 25 gatherings, clubs have been urged to convene their memberships to thrash out the various options and arrive at their favoured recommendation.
Cork county board chairman Marc Sheehan said the age grades debate is a “very pressing matter” that requires thorough consultation by all stakeholders, with O’Donovan stressing at last night’s county board meeting that decoupling will be tied into whatever age grade is favoured.
“Whatever you want your minor at, I don’t think Croke Park are going to allow any scenario where you get that minor grade without decoupling,” O’Donovan remarked.
“I think 99.9% of people in this country want minor at club level to be at U18. The ‘but’ is coming, though. Are people then willing to play adult without your U18s. Then it is not 99.9%. It is all grand to say we want minor at U18, but are you willing to make the necessary sacrifice to get U18.
“It is absolutely essential that the clubs meet in between the two county board meetings because we want to hear right from the utter grassroots what is the Cork position. We won’t be voting the second night, but we hope to reach a consensus on how the Cork clubs feel.
“I don’t think there is a more urgent or important issue facing us at the moment.” Former Cork U21 hurling manager and Killeagh delegate Damien Irwin warned that the jump from U17 minor to adult is too big for underage players to make. His preference is for minor to return to U18.
“I attended three minor games in recent weeks, the Premier 1 minor football, the Premier 1 minor hurling, and Premier 2 minor hurling finals, and I saw lots of good players. Having said that, I don’t know did I see any player out on the field who I would say will be physically ready in six months’ time to enter adult competition.
“However good they are at 17, I just think it is a bridge too soon. If that bridge breaks, the clubs lose the players through loss of interest, injury, or disassociation. The biggest issue in front of us is that issue.
“We need to think not about the short-term gain of a manager or a club, but the long-term, and that is retaining players.” Irwin’s comments were supported by Glen Rovers’ Jude O’Callaghan, with St Vincents' delegate Stephen McCarthy calling for “common sense to prevail” in terms of minor switching back to U18.
Pat Curtin of Freemount and Meelin’s Timmie Brosnan warned of the implications for smaller rural clubs if minor goes to U18 and how they would be negatively impacted by no longer having access to U18 players for adult competition.
“We should seriously consider some compromise if decoupling does come in because rural clubs are going to struggle. It is only 10 or 12 years ago that we stopped 16-year-olds playing adult. Where are we going to go next, 20-year-olds not able to play adult? We need to have a serious chat about this,” said Brosnan.
Elsewhere, it was confirmed the October 30 Cork Premier SFC decider between St Finbarr’s and Nemo Rangers will double up as the Division 1 League final.