Age-grade debate: county board proposal set to face crunch Cork ballot 

The plan would see minor set at U18, but with a large caveat...
Age-grade debate: county board proposal set to face crunch Cork ballot 

VOTE: Delegates will have their say on the proposal on Tuesday night on Leeside. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

After almost two years of debate, votes, and further debate, a line in the sand might finally be drawn this Tuesday evening on the divisive age grades subject in Cork.

September’s Special Congress gave permission to counties to set minor and decoupling from adult competitions at the age grade they deemed most appropriate for themselves.

U17 or U18. Take your pick.

But in keeping with the past two years of going round the houses on this issue in Cork, the county executive has drawn up their own proposal, outside of exclusive decoupling at U17 or U18, that will be voted on by delegates at this evening’s special county board meeting.

What’s on the table is that minor would be set at U18, but with a large caveat. That caveat is as follows: Players in their final year of minor would be eligible to line out in adult championships from Junior A through D and the accompanying leagues.

Players in their final year of minor would not, however, be eligible to line out in adult county championships from Premier Senior down to and including Premier Junior.

In essence, all teams at Junior A level and below - regardless of whether they are a club’s first, second, or third team - would have access to players in their last year of minor.

An actual example might be helpful at this point for those with their heads not yet fully wrapped around the proposal. And Lord knows there were enough of them at the last county board meeting. In their defence, age grade fatigue has long set in on Leeside.

Last year, St Finbarr’s won the Cork Premier Senior hurling title. Two U18s - now Munster rugby recruit Ben O’Connor and William Buckley - saw game-time during the county final win.

But if the above proposed rule had been in place last season, O’Connor and Buckley wouldn’t have been eligible to line out for the Barrs’ Premier Senior or Premier Junior teams. Their ceiling of eligibility would have been capped at the club’s junior teams that compete in the Seandún city division championship.

Here’s another example to consider. Where the Barrs’ top team got to utilise the talents of their leading U18s in 2022, Killeagh will not be afforded the same opportunity next season if the executive’s proposal receives 51% support this evening.

Killeagh had four players - Fionn Murphy, Sean Meade, Ben and Barry Walsh - on this year’s Cork minor panel. Three of them were starters. The Walsh boys, in particular, are real exciting prospects.

Killeagh, understandably, will want the quartet contributing to their Senior A efforts at the earliest possible opportunity. But if this evening’s proposal is passed, the aforementioned quartet will only be available to the club’s second and third teams in 2024 and not their Senior A flagship side that reached this year’s quarter-final.

At one of the many age grade-dominated Cork board meetings this time last year, Killeagh delegate and former Cork U21 manager Damien Irwin said moving minor and decoupling from U17 to U18 was necessary to avoid the potential drop-off of up to 90% of players in their first year out of minor where they might be surplus to requirements on their club’s adult teams and had no meaningful series of games at U18 to keep them occupied and interested.

But at last month’s board meeting, Irwin said Killeagh’s view had changed after seeing U18s flourish on their adult teams.

He said that if U18s were prohibited from adult that “soccer and rugby will fill the void and give them the games they crave”.

If the motion is passed, it will, the executive argue, remove several clashes between minor and adult teams, particularly at the higher grades. In the event of any remaining clashes at lower grades, minor championship games take priority.

“This will facilitate a return to U18, U16, U14 and U12 competitions in 2024, which would simply not be possible otherwise in a dual county of our scale without some form of decoupling,” stated the document circulated ahead of the vote by Cork GAA CEO Kevin O’Donovan.

“This, in turn, will facilitate a later start to Rebel Óg minor competitions (March onwards) and the return of knockout Divisional U21 football championships on dedicated dates in February, with all county U20 players available. County U21 hurling and football championships would return later in the year.” 

Cork voted last December to return minor to U18, with full decoupling, from 2024 onward. But the defeat of the relevant motion at the following February’s Congress restarted the debate locally.

September’s Special Congress giving licence to counties to do as they please, mixed in with the ongoing concerns of small, rural clubs if denied access to their U18s for adult fare, has brought the executive and everyone else involved in the debate to this evening and the hybrid proposal on the table.

But what if the small and rural clubs whose flagship team wears Senior A, Premier Intermediate, Intermediate A, or Premier Junior status don’t like the idea of their U18s not being allowed to line out at the top adult grade the club can offer? What if enough of them and the larger clubs contribute to the motion failing to reach 51%.

Where, after almost two years of debate and votes, does Cork go then?

Your home  for all the latest news, match reports, features, opinions and expert analysis from the Cork Club Championships.


Your home  for all the latest news, match reports, features, opinions and expert analysis from the Cork GAA Club Championships.

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