Cuthbert: Go back to U18, but no minor must play senior

The revival of the U18 minor grade is something Cuthbert is amenable to providing that U18s are not expected to play adult.
Cuthbert: Go back to U18, but no minor must play senior

Brian Cuthbert: "I’m involved in the U17 minors in my own club and to think that any of them would be going straight into an adult dressing room is beyond belief.’

Former Cork senior football manager Brian Cuthbert is in favour of the minor grade returning to U18 so long as eligible players are not permitted to play adult club football or hurling.

Cuthbert was a prominent member of the talent academy and player development committee, the last national under-age taskforce. Their 2019 report stressed the importance of decoupling in helping to counter drop-out figures and proposed age grades be organised in odd years before U17 – ie, U15, U13.

The revival of the U18 minor grade is something Cuthbert is amenable to providing that U18s are not expected to play adult.

“I think the country is completely convinced that we go back to U18 so that’s not the issue,” he opened. “The decoupling debate is context-based for me because those who argue that we should decouple are probably from larger, urban clubs and those who argue we shouldn’t and U18 should play adult have other (rural) issues. But maybe those issues aren’t part of this debate. Maybe those issues such as rural depopulation and supporting rural clubs are other debates for the GAA.

“For me, there is no point having the split season where your inter-county minor players are away for six months, they come back and suddenly the senior manager wants him and we’re back to where we were three years ago.

“If we’re going back to U18, which I hope we do, it makes perfect sense that decoupling is part of the deal because then the minor section in your club can continue on with a proper games programme, which is all they want. If we don’t have decoupling, fixtures will be moved at the behest of senior managers.

“Some people will say all these factors merge into one but if we focus solely on what’s best for the club in the long term, it’s that children are allowed to stay playing under-age for as long as feasibly possible, which is to the end of U18 if minor goes to that.

“Why would we go back to what we had when there was a problem with it, not the age grade itself but the fact that the players were handpicked to go and play adult and maybe they weren’t ready.” 

Some of the commentary about the age grades in recent weeks has bemused Cuthbert. “One piece I saw recently asked why stop a 17-year-old playing adult if he is better than the older player. That is very shortsighted in my view.

“We have to look at this with a long-term lens and ask what is best for the club and that’s developing players to stay as long as they play Gaelic games and a huge part of that is a proper games programme for 17 and 18-year-olds that is age appropriate. 

"People will say, ‘oh, he’s developed enough to play adult’. Giving children a longer time in their under-age set-up will ensure they are more ready at U19 to play senior.

“I'm involved in the U17 minors in my own club and to think that any of them would be going straight into an adult dressing room is beyond belief. They’re not ready. Give them another year and not all of them will be ready but a lot of them will. But that’s another argument in terms of what’s the next competition after U18 if the GAA decides to go with U18.” 

As a Bishopstown man, Cuthbert fully acknowledges player shortage isn’t as acute for his club as it is for others, but maintains that issue isn't enough to oppose decoupling. 

“Everything is context-based so everything that people are seeing on the ground is obviously true. They’re not making this up. But the question has to be asked, ‘what did you do this year? Did you survive fine without them when they were U17? Well, maybe you can survive one more year.’ 

“The GAA has to tackle the reality of rural depopulation and falling numbers in rural clubs and has to look at competition structures and different types at various ages for clubs. Amalgamations are extremely political and local and I don’t think the GAA can afford to approach that unless clubs come towards them. But for me, and it is easy for me to say this, the depopulation argument is totally different to the age grades debate.”

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