They’re not of seismic impact but two decisions that GAA bodies took within the last year were reversed at a Central Council meeting last weekend.
The decision taken by Central Council last year and rubber-stamped at Congress in February to prohibit joint-recipients of a cup/trophy of a presentation was dead before it ever got off the ground anyway as clubs kept up with the practice of sending two players, more often than not joint captains, up to do the honours with impunity.
It is not unusual for joint captains in squads that can range over 30 in number while amalgamations often find it is the most practical way to nominate on the double to resolve any leadership crux.
A decision to allow pre-season competitions for 2022 was also taken despite a recommendation from the Fixtures Calendar Review Task Force last year to dispense with them.
The thinking was that it would incentivise counties to return to training earlier if they had games to target but some counties are already back at it furiously in anticipation of challenge games, permitted from January anyway, and with no expanded championship games programme for 2022 at least, the feeling was ‘why not’ when the proposal was floated last weekend.
Are other much more impactful U-turns taken on the horizon? The full force of a split season has yet to be felt but the squeeze on pitches and referees for a more compressed programme of games has nonetheless been felt in counties over the last few months.
Granted, the inter-county season ended seven weeks later than where it’s planned to end it in 2022 and that should at least give clubs a better window where light and pitch conditions are not such issues but the impact of the compression of games on players has yet to be assessed, as has an inter-county season that will now end in July. Fine in theory but how will it all play out in practice? No one knows.
The theory of officially switching the minor championship grade at club level from under 18 to under 17 – official championship grades became U-13, 15 and 17 that year – was based on sound reasoning too in 2020 as it decoupled underage grades from adult grades, removing one of the main Venn diagrams that regularly tripped up a smoother local championship fixture programme.
Taking U-17s out of the adult picture didn’t go down well with all clubs, especially those with smaller playing pools like Valentia in Kerry who were stretched to field an adult team if they couldn’t have access to 17-year-olds. Some counties like Kildare did retain U-18 for competitive purposes but such a competition would not have official championship recognition.
Inter-county underage competitions had already taken a year off the grades in 2016, reducing to U-20 and U-17 with the new lower age grade being taken out of the firing line of the Leaving Cert – though many Leaving Certs have just as great a crossover with U-20 level now. With a split season in place, the importance to club fixtures of having no crossover between underage and adult will increase given the time-frame. But the downside for reducing the grades at club level is the risk to player retention. The evidence at present is anecdotal but the substance behind what some of those raising concerns about U-17 being the last underage outpost requires closer examination.
The ‘jump’ to adult football for a 17-18-year-old can be sudden and pitching in with a club’s junior team in that first year out of underage is not always that enticing.
A year out at that point can conceivably mean that a player can quickly become lost to the game.
The four-time All-Ireland final referee Pat McEnaney articulated his feelings in the Irish News last week. McEnaney has been involved with his club Corduff’s minor teams for a long time now and senses a drift once U-17 business is complete. His club plan a motion for Congress next February seeking restoration of minor as an U-18 competition. It looks like they won’t be alone.
The move to U-17 was strongly advocated by the Talent Academy And Player Development Work Group, headed by former Kilkenny hurling selector Michael Dempsey, in their report published two years ago. They also proposed making U-17 inter-county competitions developmental with a preference for U-19 competition after that, something now being examined by the GAA.
The fact is most counties do not cater well for players in the 17-20 age bracket anyway with a casual approach to competition in that window at the tail end of any year, exacerbating the player drain issue.