Sunday 25 September 2016

Dempsey slams GAA over 'ludicrous' proposal to cull U-21 grade

Michael Verney

Published 05/11/2015 | 02:30

Luke Dempsey
Luke Dempsey

Luke Dempsey has blasted the GAA's proposal to scrap the U-21 football championship, labelling it as "ludicrous" and suggesting it could force talented players to give up on the game.

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Having guided Westmeath to U-21 glory in 1999, Dempsey appreciates the importance of the grade and is strongly against the changes suggested by director-general Páraic Duffy on Tuesday.

The current St Loman's manager cited the Lake County's success, and subsequent Leinster senior title in 2004, as proof of the its value and believes its removal would be detrimental to the game.

"It's absolutely outrageous that they're even considering scrapping it, ludicrous. When the Westmeath minors won the All-Ireland minor, very few played on the Leinster-winning senior side," he said.

"That's compared to about two thirds of the U-21 champions. The U-21 was the catalyst to success, not the minor. Look at the great Kerry and Tyrone teams as well, the U-21 is way more important.

"Good performances at U-21 can help spearhead a renaissance and give players the confidence to be competitive at senior level."

With minor set to be replaced by U-17, there is an absence of a "stepping stone" to senior level and Dempsey expects a number of talented players to be lost in the extended transition.

"If U-17 is the only underage grade before senior, then what chances have you got of keeping lads playing the game?" he reasoned.

"There are so many temptations pulling lads away from football already these days without pushing them away ourselves."

Dempsey, who led Moorefield to back-to-back Kildare SFC titles, also feels club players are being grossly under-appreciated, dubbing them the GAA's "poor relation".

"They might as well close down the summer months for club players and let lads go off on J1s for June, July and August," Dempsey said. "The blind loyalty to stay at home isn't there now, you can't blame club players. There's no meaningful games there for them, why would they hang around?"

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