Sunday 15 July 2018

Clubs seeking league format change

GAA annual convention

John Savage

So-called 'weaker' GAA clubs in Louth will attempt to reverse a ruling which they feel is threatening their very existence at annual convention next month.

Two years ago clubs voted to open the county leagues up into six divisions, which meant that Division 3 clubs could be relegated for the first time. Since then, Wolfe Tones, St Nicholas and Cuchulainn Gaels have dropped off what was traditionally the bottom rung of the ladder, and Dowdallshill will follow suit in 2018 after suffering relegation this summer. John Mitchel's narrowly avoided becoming the fifth team to slip out of the third tier following a play-off win over Cooley Kickhams' second string.

The 'B' or reserve teams of St Bride's, Naomh Mairtin and now Dundalk Gaels have moved in the opposite direction and the changing of the guard looks set to continue over the next few seasons. Understandably, bigger clubs want their second string teams to play at the highest level possible and under the current regulations they could conceivably end up with teams competing in Divisions 1 and 2 of the county leagues.

But weaker clubs feel the new regime is making it even harder for them to field even one team. They have met twice recently to discuss their options and are expected to furnish a motion to convention on December 12th proposing a return to the old model of three-division 'first' and 'reserve' team leagues. While the argument has been made previously that 'every club will find their level eventually', the weaker clubs feel it could be too late by then.

They insist it is a 'sustainability' issue and are genuinely concerned that they won't be able to field teams in the not-too-distant future. One of their major concerns is that fixtures in Divisions 1 through 3 are more 'player-friendly', largely taking place on weekends, while the majority of Division 5, 6 and 7 games are scheduled for midweek, when players are either in college or struggling to make it home from work in time.

A number of clubs feel there is also a huge loss of prestige in playing in the lower leagues, which in turn makes it harder to entice and keep young players. There is also a concern that league results are being distorted, as the quality of teams that a club's second string field from one week to the next can vary enormously. In Division 3 this year St Bride's second team conceded three walkovers, as their first team chased promotion to Division 1.

Two of the walkovers helped Westerns and Naomh Malachi to finish three and two points ahead of John Mitchels respectively. St Bride's did field against Mitchels and beat them by 15 points. Also in Division 3, Naomh Mairtin inflicted a costly defeat on title-chasing Roche Emmets in early July, but seven weeks later lost to Mitchels by 10 points, at a time when their first team were involved at the business end of Division 1 and the Senior Championship.

And 'weaker' clubs frustrations continue in the lower divisions. St Nicholas lost to Newtown Blues by 21 points in May, but later in the summer the Blues failed to travel to Omeath to take on Cuchulainn Gaels on a Tuesday night and conceded the points.

Cuchulainn Gaels did attempt to reverse the new system at last year's convention, but with motions relating to competitions generally adjourned until January, they subsequently withdrew it. A more robust and detailed motion is expected to be tabled this time around, but it remains to be seen if it will reach the floor on December 12th or be adjourned until the first meeting in 2018.

Drogheda Independent