The FAI have defended controversial changes to the format of the 2018 Gaynor Cup, the annual tournament in Limerick widely-regarded as the premier showcase for underage women’s football in Ireland.
The launch and draw for this year’s competition took place yesterday against a backdrop of criticism that changes in the qualification process — resulting in a reduction in the number of teams in the tournament in June — are at odds with the FAI’s stated ambition to grow the number of girls playing football in this country.
However, Dave Connell, FAI Head of Women’s Underage Development and also the coach of the U19 Irish team, has defended the change in format — which sees the number of teams in this year’s tournament down from 20 at U16 level and 21 at U14 to 16 in both — and makes no bones about the fact that the goal is to prioritise player development over participation.
“Obviously, there’s been controversy this year and criticism mainly from parents whose daughters haven’t made the competition but I have to state that the Gaynor Cup has never been about participation for all players,” he said, pointing out that the tournament is contested by league representative sides rather than clubs.
Since the tournament’s inception, the growth in the number of leagues and players involved, he suggested, had brought challenges in maintaining the highest standards. “This competition was always about facilitating our elite players,” he said. “Our elite players have to play with the best against the best and we were finding over the last few years that it wasn’t a challenge for these elite players. So cutting it to 16 was really to facilitate them.”
Connell said that the new format was not introduced “ad hoc” and had been on the discussion table with the leagues for the last three years.
“But it might be that some people weren’t really aware of the changes to the qualification process,” he conceded. “We will look at our communication to the leagues and the leagues’ communications with the parents of the players. And if there are lessons to be learned in that, we’ll certainly learn them.”
Connell said that the new format will be reviewed after this year’s tournament.
“If people are looking at the Gaynor as a grassroots participation competition, then we’ll have to examine that,” he said. “And we will take on board people’s views and the leagues’ views. We may have to reexamine the Gaynor itself and whether we need to change the format completely and take the elite players out of that. That’s for another day but we’ll certainly look at that at the end of this competition.”
The 2018 Fota Island Resort FAI Gaynor Cup — which also incorporates a four-team U12 competition — will be played at the University of Limerick from Wednesday, June 20 to Sunday, June 24.