Sunday 11 December 2016

Counties step up fight to keep U-21 championship

Published 15/12/2015 | 02:30

Former Kilkenny defender JJ Delaney tackles Waterford's Maurice Shanahan during the All-Star exhibition match in Austin, Texas. The game ended in a high-scoring draw
Former Kilkenny defender JJ Delaney tackles Waterford's Maurice Shanahan during the All-Star exhibition match in Austin, Texas. The game ended in a high-scoring draw
13 December 2015; Uachtarán Chumann Lúthchleas Gael Aogán Ó Fearghail with Kilkenny's Richie Hogan, captain of the 2015 team. GAA All-Star Tour 2015, sponsored by Opel, 2014 All-Stars v 2015 All-Stars. St Edwards University, Austin, Texas, USA. Picture credit: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

The proposal to scrap the All-Ireland U-21 football championship looks certain to be rejected as counties rally in support of a competition that has been in existence for 51 years.

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GAA president Aogán ó Fearghail has admitted that there's considerable opposition to the idea, which features prominently in the discussion document on player burnout and overtraining prepared by director-general Páraic Duffy.

ó Fearghail and Duffy have completed a tour of the four provinces, explaining the rationale behind the plan, which also includes reducing the minor age limit to 17 years, scrapping the All-Ireland junior football and intermediate hurling championships, bringing forward the All-Ireland senior finals by two weeks and completing the All-Ireland club championships in December.

Positive

"There has been a very positive reaction in general to the document but I'd have to take note that there is a strong feeling that the U-21 competition should not go. I have to be honest and admit that.

"I'm not so sure it can be retained in its current format - maybe it should be played at a different time of year. That is something that Páraic and I will review. We have to take on board the views of counties and I'd say a good number of them wouldn't like to see the U-21 championship football championship disappear," he said.

There's also opposition to abolishing the All-Ireland junior football championship especially from Britain.

"They said to me that they wouldn't like to see the junior championships go. I think they're right. A lot of counties back home have no interest it in but maybe we could make it a genuine junior championship for 10 or 11 or the weaker counties," he said.

There has also been criticism of the proposal to complete the All-Ireland club championships in the calendar year, but ó Fearghail believes it's a sensible proposal.

"This is all about helping clubs and their players - it's important to remember that. I think we could create a fantastic atmosphere playing the club finals under lights in Croke Park in December," he said.

Complaints that removing the finals from the St Patrick's Day slot would leave the GAA with a void on the national holiday are not valid, according to ó Fearghail.

It would be crazy for the GAA to have Croke Park closed on St Patrick's Day and we're not going to do that. We're simply saying that there's no need for the club finals to be played that day. There are other ways of providing a big attraction for Croke Park. We'll always have a substantial event there on St Patrick's Day.

"We have plenty games to play on that and other days too. It's because we have so many fixtures that we're looking into the entire structures in the first place."

Commenting on a Kerry call for all championship games to be shown free-to-air (effectively ending the deal with Sky at the end of next year), ó Fearghail said that he didn't think it would be an issue for Congress and would instead be dealt with by Central Council.

Important

He said that it was important for the GAA to keep all its options open and pointed out that despite the Sky link-up, as many games were shown free-to-air over the last two years as under previous deals.

"One thing is certain. There certainly won't be more games shown on TV than is currently the case because our clubs would be seriously affected. I think we have the balance about right.

"TV coverage is very important but we have to decide what's the right amount. I'd be happy enough we're doing that. Times are changing worldwide all the time with regards to TV coverage of sport. The GAA have keep up with that," he said.

Discussions between Croke Park and the GPA to work out a new deal will be ongoing in the coming months.

That will include the international dimension which came under scrutiny after the feisty Dublin v Galway encounter in Fenway Park, Boston a few weeks ago.

"Anything that encourages people to look at our games is helpful. I was talking to our people in Boston and they really valued it.

"They said it brought a whole load of people to the GAA so the positives outweigh the negatives," he said.

Irish Independent

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