Struggling rural clubs seek to lower adult age limit
Hard-pressed rural clubs are behind a series of motions at this weekend's Congress to reverse a decision taken two years ago to preclude U-17s from playing in adult matches.
The Minor Review Committee, headed by Wexford's Michael Martin, were successful in their proposal to restrict participation in adult club games to players who are U-18 and upwards, with inter-county matches restricted to those over U-18 level in a particular year.
The rationale for change was based on the risk of burn-out for those exposed to too many teams in those age categories. Club activity at U-21 level also had a new lower age level imposed, putting it out of reach for those eligible for U-16.
But after just one year in operation clubs from Laois, Kildare, Wicklow, Kilkenny, Mayo Tyrone, Westmeath and Longford have all sponsored motions to repeal the various restriction.
Courtwood (Laois), Ardclough and Monasterevin (Kildare), Young Irelands (Kilkenny), Hollywood (Wicklow) and St Pat's Gortin (Tyrone) all want the decision relating to adult activity reversed so that U-17s can play senior for their clubs. They are satisfied, however, that inter-county games remain out of reach for U-18s.
Young Irelands want U-21 games to be open to players over 15 while Abbeylara (Longford) and Mullingar Shamrocks (Westmeath) want U-21 to be open to over 16s and inter-county U-21 games to be open to over 17s.
Thomas Coyne, chairman of the Hollywood club, revealed that his club fears they will lose 17-year-olds to the game if they can't play adult matches because the games programmes at underage level isn't there to support them.
"We dropped from senior to intermediate last year and we are struggling to field teams," he said. "Our minor footballers (U-18) played nine games last year. Some of those in their 18th year were able to play adult football but with no U-21 championship in Wicklow that wasn't enough games for our U-17s," he said.
"Our problem isn't burn-out. It's the exact opposite. If we lose a player for a year, we lose them for good," he warned. "There's just too much competition around from soccer and rugby. For us, the biggest fall-out is around the 17-years mark and we need to get those players into an adult set-up quicker to hold on to them," added Coyne.
"We're doing our best to keep the game going in this part of the world (west Wicklow). There's not much else here except the GAA club and we need every resource possible. We just want to reverse the decision of two years ago."
Abbeylara want U-16s to be able to play U-21 games, something that has also been ruled out from Congress two years ago. Their chairperson Mary O'Connor said they struggled to field an U-21 team last year.
"It's two or three games for most clubs in October and November. And by then most born in that year are already 16. We had just about 13 players last year to make 13-a-side, we had no subs. You just can't force clubs to merge," she said.
Mayo hurling club Tooreen are calling for a repeal also with inter-county B and C teams having access to 'over 17 years.'