CONCERNED Knockmore Under-17 manager Nigel Reape. Pic: James Wright Photography
WELL-KNOWN Gaelic football pundit Nigel Reape — who managed the Knockmore Under-17s to a county title last weekend — believes that Mayo should revert to even-aged competition across all underage grades next season.
Speaking to The Mayo News following his team’s victory over Parke in the Mayo U-17 ‘B’ championship final in Hastings MacHale Park on Sunday, Reape said the issue needs to be urgently addressed or the stream of players turning their backs on Gaelic football will only increase.
“Right now, a lad who’s Under-18 is finished playing football in April or May, and if he’s not strong enough or good enough to get on his club’s adult team then he has no more football for the year,” said the former Knockmore forward.
“Some people will tell you that there’s an Under-19 competition there for lads, but that’s a glorified Mickey Mouse tournament that very few have any heed on, so lots of lads are walking away from the game,” added the former Mayo Under-21 selector.
Reape has first-hand knowledge of the minor age-grade as he has the unusual distinction of being the U-17 team manager of both Knockmore in Mayo and Castleconnor in Sligo, as well as being chairman of Knockmore’s Bord na nÓg committee.
“A lot of lads are not ready for adult football when they’re still 17 years of age and, in reality, that’s what’s happening. Lads coming out of Under-17 football have two choices now, play adult football or twiddle their thumbs. It’s mad.
“In Castleconnor, five lads came through to adult football from last year’s U-17 team which is great, but what happened the other lads in the squad? There was nothing for them.
“It’s the same here in Knockmore. When the Under-18 competition finished early in the year a lot of the lads went playing with Conn Rangers, who could field three teams in the U-21 soccer league. Lads want to play competitive football with their peers, simple as that.”
Reape is passionate about the issue and spoke at a recent Mayo Bord na nÓg meeting where a lengthy discussion took place. Mayo GAA recently sent out a questionnaire to clubs looking for their thoughts on their preferred age-groups.
The Mayo News understands that almost 90% of clubs who responded were in favour of an immediate return to even-age competition, and Reape says Mayo GAA should implement that even if inter-county football remains at the Under-17 and Under-20.
It is believed that such an outcome would require a derogation from Croke Park, unless a decision is taken at next year’s Special Congress to revert to minor as an Under-18 grade at club level in all counties.
“It would have no negative impact on the county team, in fact it would help the minor management as they’d be able to watch meaningful competition for the U-16 lads coming through for the following year,” stated Nigel Reape.
“Inter-county football will be fine whatever decision is made, but we must look after the clubs and make sure that we provide proper competition for our players.
“Getting as many as possible through to play adult football for their clubs has to be our aim, but the way things are going at the moment, means we’re facing into a real problem.”
GAA President Larry McCarthy established a committee to explore the underage grades after a number of motions on the controversial issue were defeated at GAA Congress last February.
It’s believed that the committee is working towards a proposal for next February’s annual Congress with a view to introducing any changes made in 2024.