*Michael Collins in action for the Clare minors. Photograph: Gerard O’Neill

CLARE GAA will not revert the minor grade to U18 following a vote at Convention this week.

That there are strong views on both sides of the argument as to whether or not underage games should be played at uneven ages (under 13, under 15 and under 17) or at even ages (under 14, under 16 and under 18) was reflected in the fact that seven clubs submitted motions to this week’s convention on the subject.

The motions generated a lively debate particularly on whether or not to change minor competition from under 17 to under 18.

Referring to the topic in her address to the convention, Head of Operations Deirdre Murphy said “returning to under 18 is only logistcally possible if it is then decoupled from adult which would present its own difficulties”.

She urged delegates “to think carefully and any alternative proposal really must outline the ‘how’ of implementation. It is not enough to say it has been done before as it has not been done since the split season came into being”.

Before the discussion got going, motions on the topic from Kildysart and Newmarket-on-Fergus asking that minors aged eighteen be allowed to play with their club’s adult team were withdrawn.

Kilmaley had two motions on the topic, one calling for a return to under 18 for minor and the second calling for a player to have celebrated his 18th birthday prior to January 1 of the championship year.

Newmarket-on-Fergus proposed that the minor club championship returns to 18 years of age from 2024 while St Joseph’s Miltown asked that minor be for U18 and not U17.

Kilmaley delegate Emmet Pyne told the gathering that “the gap from under 17 to adult is too great. An under 19 competition has been tried but it is difficult to find a place on the calendar for this”. He added, “it is imperative if this is not successful that board try set up U19 competition. Psychologically and physically some hurlers cannot play adult hurling at 17 years of age”.

Neil Ryan of Newmarket-on-Fergus agreed with the sentiments from Kilmaley, “One thing that stands out a minor could be halfway during TY and is under 18 but is still considered an adult, we are expecting them to go toe to toe with well-seasoned adults with no opportunity to further his game”. The club’s intermediate manager added, “we appreciate the fact from a fixtures perspective that it is difficult to fit everything into the one calendar but we were once told a split season wasn’t a viable option”. Ryan maintained the “voice is growing for the U18 change, that is fairly evident from some of the votes we’ve seen nationally”.

Both the gap “is too big from 17 to 21 and what we’ve found is we have lost players in that timeframe,” cautioned Frank Minogue of St Joseph’s Miltown.

St. Joseph’s Doora/Barefield delegate Anthony O’Halloran supported retaining the status quo saying that to change would be very hard on dual clubs. “For a dual club we’re asking U18s to play minor and senior at same time or adult, we think that it is an awful lot, I do realise the decoupling would sort that problem out”. He said the workload would be too much on players, “if it goes to even ages there is a huge amount of proposals to play every second week from hurling and football which will make it very difficult for dual clubs”.

Anthony O’Halloran. Photograph: Burren Eye Photography

Having more games in place was one of the aims of the strategic review, SIxmilebridge delegate PJ Fitzpatrick commented. “This year we won a minor championship whch in my own opinion was the greatest championship ever won because we beat every hurling county in the country”. He added, “We don’t want to over play our more prominent players”.

Flan Mullane of Clonlara queried when it would be viable to play the games if minor reverted to U18, “We had minors playing in July and the adult championship started in July in Clare, if you had 18 year olds playing adult competition I don’t know when you would play”.

Bord na nÓg hurling secretary, Pat Gavin responded, “I don’t know when it would start if there isn’t decoupling, with the inter-county season at U17 there will be nothing started until the second week of July, U16 and U18 would run together both hurling and football, there would be no timeframe, I’d reckon we’d have 18 weeks to run off four competitions and if we’re in competition with adult I don’t know what the outcome would be”.

Gavin warned that matters would not improve if changed. “The motion as its put would make things worse for everyone as U18 would be hampered by everything”. He acknowledged that U19 needs to be revisited, “I’d urge clubs to leave it as it for this year and we might plan to work on something”.

Vice Chairman of Clare GAA, Michael O’Connor recalled his own time as Bord na nÓg hurling secretary. In 1997, he said the Minor A final was played on the second Sunday in December and the famous final of 98 played in the fog in Killaloe was also held in December. “In the last month or so I only have marveled at the great work done by the underage clubs, if you put the minor back to U18 and don’t decouple, the issue that won’t develop is with the minor but with the U14/16 football and hurling”. The Crusheen man added, “You will get the minor played but you will be pushing back everything to December. The split season is here to stay, you won’t play any adult championship until late July”.

Clooney/Quin’s John Skehan said they were in favour of maintaining the uneven ages at underage. “I know parents in our parish favour not having minor at U18 because it is generally speaking Leaving Certificate year”.

Fiachra Ó Murchú from Tulla urged clubs to look at themselves, “the first two speakers have highlighted that we’re losing players”. He referenced a recent presentation from Clare GAA’s Athletic Lead, Rob Mulcahy, “we need to look at how we grow the sport and participation”.

A member of the management with Clare’s All-Ireland and Munster winning hurlers, Liam O’Reilly flagged, “We’re not just looking at the elite player, we’re looking at the player that won’t play elite, when I look at the calendar, the minor will go from seven group games to three”. The Banner club delegate added, “I really admire some of the clubs that have started to recognise that you need second or third teams, it is not for auld lads like me to play but it is to develop players. They are no longer hatchet competitions where players go out and get sledged”. Burnout and injury in elite players needs to be considered, he said.

Ballyea wished to see the format stay as is, club secretary Fiona Whelan highlighted. “We over the last couple of years have introduced a third adult team. The Junior B was initially thought as a team for older lads but it is now filling the gap when the U19 didn’t happen this year or didn’t work out last year”.

Coaching Officer, Neil O’Brien reiterated the point from Pat Gavin that if changed it would mean four underage competitions (U18 and U16) at both codes would have to be completed in eighteen weeks. He warned that decoupling “is something I think could be a breaker in small rural clubs”. He told the Convention, he met with Munster Council, Coaching and Games and spoke to several clubs on the issue, “you can check my phone bill because the conversation it has started is unbelievable”.

The meeting voted heavily in favour of retaining minor at U17. Ruan’s motion to revert to U14, U16 and U18 failed to have a seconder.

(additional reporting by Páraic McMahon)

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If you’re here, you care about County Clare. So do we. Did you rely on us for Covid-19 updates, follow our election coverage, or visit The Clare Echo every week for breaking news and sport? The Clare Echo invests in local journalism and we want to safeguard its future in our county. By becoming a subscriber you are supporting what we do, will receive access to all our premium articles and a better experience, while helping us improve our offering to you. Subscribe to clareecho.ie and get the first six months for just €3 a month (less than 75c per week), and thereafter €8 per month. Cancel anytime, limited time offer. T&Cs Apply. www.clareecho.ie.

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