Leinster undertaking extensive cross-county juvenile initiative
A major Leinster Council initiative, with the long-term aim of raising standards of football and hurling across the province, will see over 300 teams take part in cross-county U-13 and U-15 Leagues in February and March.
Piloted last year, it has now been put on a more formal footing as part of a drive to integrate activity among counties.
Overseen by Leinster Council games managers Alan Mulhall (the Offaly football goalkeeper) and James Devane (Kildare), it has attracted support from all 12 counties in the province, with 308 teams already entered.
"We expect to get a few more over the coming days. The interest is huge," said Mulhall.
The introduction of cross-county leagues for these age groups arose from analysis of the situation around the province.
It was discovered that whereas Dublin ran their programmes from February onwards, many counties didn't start until late March/early April.
There was also an issue around competitiveness in some counties, where the difference in standards left the better teams with only a few demanding games, while weaker teams tended to become disheartened by bad results. Neither group were served well by that arrangement.
"It took a while to sell the cross-county idea but county boards have now bought into it and are very enthusiastic," said Mulhall.
"We're confident that it will be a great success. The young players will enjoy the experience of playing against clubs from other counties and will also benefit from playing against opposition of their own standard."
Meanwhile, Leinster CEO Michael Reynolds calls for an end to replays in many competitions so as to ease the pressure on the fixtures calendar.
A multi-layered structure, further complicated by the involvement of dual players, continues to present problems.
"To have any realistic chance of improving the situation, we must seriously look at a 'result on the day' approach for the vast majority of our knockout games at club, educational sector and even county level," writes Reynolds in his annual report.
He has concerns too over facilities, pointing out that it's becoming increasingly difficult for counties to keep their main grounds viable.
"There is much more to a county ground than a top-class playing surface. Hence the question - to what extent should counties pour money into county grounds and for what return?"
Reynolds also queries whether it's necessary to have so much inter-county action, suggesting that "at times we seem to provide competition for no other reason than to hold a competition".
Commenting on the black card he accepts that while some of the negative comments, referees are doing their best to be fair to all.
"As for consistency - what is consistency? Who is to say that everyone has the same definition?"
He doesn't engage in the dispute with Galway over hurling championship venues, other than stating that despite Leinster's willingness to accommodate outside provinces, "there is criticism of the view of counties in the province with regard to Galway's participation".