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‘Survival of clubs’ no minor issue

Sport

COMMENTS Mayo GAA Bord na nÓg chairman Daithi Gallagher.

Mike Finnerty

THE ‘survival of clubs struggling for numbers is at stake’ as the GAA weigh up whether the minor grade should stay at Under-17 or revert back to Under-18 in the future.
That’s according to Bonniconlon native Damien Egan, who managed the Garrymore senior footballers for the last three seasons, and is currently in charge of the Ballinrobe Community School senior ‘A’ championship team.
The GAA Age Grades Task Force at national level have asked every county to discuss a number of different proposals — on whether uneven underage grades should be retained or if there should be a return to even-age grades.
These proposals are expected to be voted on next year.
Clubs were informed at last week’s Mayo GAA Bord na nÓg annual review meeting that 94 percent of Mayo clubs were in favour of reverting to the even-age grades.
Meanwhile, Croke Park have been advocating for a policy of decoupling.
This is where the 18-year-old would exclusively play in the underage competitions and not be permitted to play in adult senior, intermediate or junior competitions.
Daithí Gallagher, Bord na nÓg Chairperson, advised clubs that this would have a huge impact on smaller clubs. “We are being asked by Croke Park to either stick with the uneven age grades, or to play our even age grades with decoupling. When 94 percent of our clubs have indicated that they want to revert to even age grades without any stipulations or conditions, then we as a committee cannot ignore that, even if it means some difficult conversations with Croke Park.”
Damien Egan believes that rural clubs who are struggling to field adult teams would be hit hard by such a ‘decoupling’ proposal being implemented.
“In clubs with big numbers they might not see the impact of a lad playing Under-17 and then maybe getting fed up or playing Under-18 and not being allowed to play adult football.
“But a lot of smaller clubs, even my home club, Bonniconlon, if you have a good 17 year-old lad it’s hugely important that he’s able to play adult football.
“For some clubs up in North Mayo who are really struggling for numbers, the survival of clubs is at stake. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that.
“The ability of adult clubs to make 15 players, to have them on the field, it’s a necessity to have these lads available.
“They definitely need to push it back to Under-18 to give the clubs that are really struggling a chance to survive.”
On the subject of why the minor grade was moved to Under-17 in the first place, Egan admitted that he wasn’t too sure if the unintended consequences had been factored in.
“There can be a tendency sometimes to look at the theory or the best-case scenarios on paper, and maybe the focus is too much on that, and some people have forgotten the reality of the coal-face for a lot of clubs,” he said.
“Obviously you can see the side of it in relation to burn-out and player development at the Under-17 age grade, but what’s the least worst option?
“To allow lads to play adult football to keep their clubs going? Or prevent those lads from playing? If that happens the future of a lot of clubs will be in jeopardy in the next five years, definitely.”

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