Galway chairman Paul Bellew believes it will be “a massive stain on the association” if the GAA doesn’t support the county’s proposal for its minor hurlers to enter either the Leinster or Munster championship.
Bellew says Galway fully accept they will lose more All-Irelands participating in one of the provinces as opposed to remaining outside it but it’s a price worth paying for the development of their teenage players. Additionally, in the interest of full integration, he insists Galway have no difficulty with their senior, intermediate and junior hurling winners entering either province’s suit of club championships.
The county has tabled the minor motion, which will be debated in Congress in Croke Park on Saturday week, on foot of officially applying to enter one of the provinces last September. Following that, they met with the GAA's national development committee and director of games development Shane Flanagan. While they understood Galway’s situation, they admitted “their hands were tied by the rulebook”.
Galway will require 60% of delegates to back their proposal, which they envision would come into force as soon as possible. The 2023 Leinster and Munster minor draws have already taken place.
“It’s gone under the radar but I think it would be a massive stain on the association if we go forward next Saturday week with a motion for Galway to be accommodated in one of the minor provincial hurling championships and it gets defeated,” Bellew says. "We’re talking about bad PR on a number of fronts at the moment but that would be the lowest of the low.
“Everyone is saying the right things to us and if that was to be converted into votes, I would have no doubt about it passing. Yet people who I would describe as being 'in-the-know' at levels closer to Croke Park would have the feeling that our motion will not pass.
“That is disappointing to hear but their views are genuine and yet the counties I have spoken to also seem to be genuine. We’d be hopeful but we think it might be tight.”
Galway’s minors last year started their championship campaign against Clare who were playing their sixth MHC fixture. “Basically, we want to go into the competition at the same stage as everybody else,” explains Bellew. “I’ve no doubt it will result in us winning less All-Irelands than we have been doing and we’re totally okay with that. We just want to go in at the start and get the same access to games as others.
“I would also add we are 100% fully open to our club hurling championships being integrated into the provincial championships as well. We want to be equal across the board – senior, U20, minor and club. No barriers.”
On the age grades debate, Galway will back U17 at inter-county level. They are one of the few counties who are content with U13, U15, U17 and U19 football/U20 hurling at club level.
“We’ll be staying with the odd age grades,” confirmed Bellew. “There wasn’t one voice from the floor to move away from them when they were first discussed last year. We played our U17 football on the weekend of adult hurling and vice-versa. It works brilliantly, everyone gets a minimum of five or six games in each code.
“The U19 football works perfectly on the Wednesdays the weekend after the adults. Some clubs aren’t happy about playing three days later, especially amalgamated clubs who can’t control both clubs’ training schedules, but 90% of clubs are happy. There’s no way we would comprehend going backwards.”
Decoupling is easier at U17 too and Bellew sees it “as an absolute must in a dual county. It’s a red-line issue for us, it’s not even up for debate.” As for why it hasn’t worked for other counties, the Pádraig Pearses man suggested managers have to be told who’s boss.
“The reason why the Wednesday nights don’t work after championship for under-age grades is because club’s adult managers are running the show and clubs haven’t been strong enough by saying, ‘We’ll play those matches, and you won’t be interfering’.
“We have had a high compliance in senior players lining out in the U20 games. We went out strong with message to the clubs from the start and it’s been reciprocated.”