Kevin O’Donovan, the secretary/CEO of Cork County Board, is not a person prone to exaggeration or excessive fatalism.
So when he says that the age limit for the minor grade is the most urgent and important topic facing the GAA right now, it’s something that should be listened to.
This week, Cork held the first of two meetings for the clubs in its county, with the second to be held on 25 October. On Tuesday night, an outline of the current minor situation was given, along with the wargaming of potential future scenarios and permutations.
The hope is that clubs will then meet to discuss what they feel works best, and that a county-wide consensus can then be found at the second meeting on Tuesday week.
From there, Cork will look to bring a motion to GAA Congress in a bid to sort what has become a thorny issue.
In condensed form: until 2017, minor was always under-18, but a change was made to have it as under-17, with those players then prevented from lining out for their clubs at adult level (previously, 16 was the lower limit).
A developmental year
While the change has made things easier in terms of running adult and juvenile competitions without any crossover, the effect on the minor grade has been perceived as largely negative, as the extra year is huge in terms of players’ development, both physically and mentally.
The clamour for a return to under-18 has been strong, but the word from Croke Park is that, whichever age is chosen, decoupling – i.e. preventing minors from playing at adult level – will remain.
Therefore you could have the situation where actual adults, minors already turned 18, were unable to play adult games.
In a lot of cases, it’s not something that would affect the top senior clubs in urban areas, but consider the junior or intermediate club in a sparsely populated countryside, surviving with a panel of 21 or 22 players.
Every body counts in that regard, and such a prohibition would be excessively punitive.
“I think 99.9 percent of people in this country want minor at club level to be at under-18,” Kevin O’Donovan said.
“The ‘but’ is coming, though. Are people then willing to play adult without your under-18s? Then it is not 99.9 percent. It is all grand to say we want minor at under-18, but are you willing to make the necessary sacrifice to get under-18.
“It is absolutely essential that the clubs meet in between the two county board meetings because we want to hear right from the utter grassroots what is the Cork position. We won’t be voting the second night, but we hope to reach a consensus on how the Cork clubs feel.
“I don’t think there is a more urgent or important issue facing us at the moment.”
Similar debates will take place in other counties, but as this is a busy time for clubs with county championships still in flow, there is a possibility that the issue won’t receive the kind of exposure it needs.
That can happen in the GAA – a decision is made at a time when few notice it and then, when it’s implemented the following year, there is a furore.
Hopefully gets the attention it deserves, so that clubs around the county – and, let’s not forget, the teenagers affected – can have the best solution.
Time for a brave prediction – feel free to make whatever holiday arrangements you want for the summer of 2024 as the Republic of Ireland’s participation in the European Championship in Germany won’t be an impinging factor.
Sunday’s draw for the qualification groups could scarcely have provided a tougher outcome for Stephen Kenny’s side, with France and the Netherlands as the top two seeds ahead of Ireland in third.
Then consider the fact that fourth seeds Greece are actually the country in the group to have won the competition most recently (2004 compared to 2000 for France and 1988 for the Dutch) and the task becomes trickier again.
The top two in each of the ten groups will qualify automatically for the 24-team finals, with the other four spots then determined by a rather complicated (this is Uefa, after all) play-off system based on the Nations League.
Given that that competition is not something that Ireland have done well in yet, it is unfortunately difficult to hold out much hope of Joxer getting another trip to Stuttgart, 36 years on.
Kenny often sells the future, in that he has had to refresh the team and blood young players, but to miss out on a second straight Euros since its expansion to 24 teams would underline the fact that Ireland are more a minnow than a side that can hold its own against Europe’s best.
We would dearly love to be proven wrong, but it would take more than one miracle to qualify and it just seems too big a leap.
While 16-year-olds might have trouble playing adult GAA (see main piece), as well as being unable to drive a car on a public road, that was no impediment to Offaly teenager Alex Dunne winning the British Formula 4 Championship last weekend.
Having won 11 races – a record in the competition – Dunne wasn’t actually present for the final race at Brands Hatch as he was competing in Italy, but his nearest rival was unable to close the gap and so he was declared the champion.
Next up for Dunne is the Italian automobile federation’s Ferrari Driver Academy scouting camp, proof if it were needed that the sky is the limit for him.