Peter Fitzpatrick has in the last week, it seems, done more to address the waning state of Louth GAA and its Gaels than prior officers managed during maximum terms. (Pic: Arthur Kinahan)
Peter Fitzpatrick has in the last week, it seems, done more to address the waning state of Louth GAA and its Gaels than prior officers managed during maximum terms.
There was a meeting in Darver last Tuesday which saw Croke Park officials present, and the debate which unfolded was ferocious. One delegate, Dundalk Gaels’ Niall Lambert, went so far as to suggest that what the guests on the night, former GAA President Liam O’Neill included, were proposing, regarding the introduction of an U17 grade, was “crazy”. It’s quite a while since such a forthright opinion - and there were many - was lodged without top-table objection.
The get-together, which was followed by confirmation of the respective committees and officers for 2020, was well-received on a unanimous scale.
Twenty-four hours later, Fitzpatrick led a full delegation of the County Board executive to Drogheda’s Gaelic Grounds where a lengthy discussion took place with representatives of the Boyneside town’s clubs. It’s believed up to 50 people attended and everything from town borders to age-groups were thrashed out over the space of hours. The reaction, again, was positive.
And the same could be said of Friday’s gathering of the Fitzpatrick-led crew and Dundalk outfits, with the Imperial Hotel meeting allowing volunteers from around this neck of the woods to leave much more confident about the direction being coursed.
It must be said that Fitzpatrick has achieved nothing of substance yet, bar put the rudimentary framework together in regard to a county committee, but his near month at the coalface has at least given the hopeless a giddy inner sensation that progress can actually be achieved under his guidance.
And his attaining of this has been on the basis of the promises he pledged in the lead up to - and the night of - his election: transparency and openness. Anybody who wished to have their say on any matter over the course of last week’s three meetings got the opportunity.
Tuesday’s sitting was open to the public and there was a large turnout to greet Leinster GAA’s Alan Mulhall and O’Neill, both of whom were part of the committee that has recommended the variation of the traditional minor grade - U18 - to a year below.
Their presentation was interesting and it’s clear the motives for altering the levels are well intended, but they’re diseased by flaws and delegates made this abundantly apparent, riddling the idea with pores.
The Croke Park delegation are of the view that a 17-year-old is too young to be playing adult football and so they may be, although perception will vary on that. The aim is also to allow fixture-makers to get a break, in that there, in the event of U17 being brought to the table, would be no crossover between adult and minor fixtures. A caveat presently stands in this regard, given some 18-year-olds will be included within both minor and adult sides, which can be a headache for those drawing schedules.
Mr O’Neill was also adamant that U21 never worked as an age-level, stressing that U20 is a more practical grouping. But, where Louth is concerned, there is no appetite, and arguably never has been, for either U20/21 football, with the timing of its running always turning players and clubs off.
When the visiting pair had finished, Newtown Blues’ Danny Nugent was first to intervene, saying what many seemed to feel, that 18-year-olds would be the selection to lose out, in that with no proper competition catering for their age, they would have to meet a standard to enable them to feature in adult games.
Many, he added, simply wouldn’t cut it straight away and would fall off as a consequence.
The response that reserve and second-team football should be used to fill this void was rejected by Naomh Máirtín’s Michael Boylan, who said that “reserve team football couldn’t be compared to proper championship football, because you’re playing alongside players who are heading for retirement and playing for social reasons: that’s not a way to improve your players”.
Lambert and Cooley Kickhams’ Leo McGuigan echoed the sentiments, saying that numbers would inevitably be lost if U18 football was abolished, with St. Mochtas’ Paul Murtagh pointing to how U19 divisions haven’t functioned elsewhere, highlighting the concession rate in Monaghan which totalled 18 of 60 games last year.
Meanwhile, taking another viewpoint, Pat O’Brien (Sean O’Mahony’s) questioned, considering they’re still legally children, why 18-year-olds are being forced into adult football through the proposed change. It was the most valid probing of the evening and clearly took the change advocates by surprise.
But, in fairness, all of the delegates’ points were taken on board and the Croke Park members never shied away from admitting that shortcomings are strung to the proposed format.
Na Piarsaigh’s Kevin Gordon, likewise, made an assertion which Mr O’Neill said he hadn’t considered, i.e. that a year of U18s are going to lose out on competing for a minor championship, a competition and trophy which has a deep meaning to Gaels county-wide. He asked why a medium-to-long-term plan for implementation wasn’t used as the basis for the switch. It was clearly a further avenue which HQ haven’t factored into their thinking.
Ultimately, Congress in February will dictate whether U13, U15 and U17 age-groups replace the traditional 14, 16 and 18 grades from 2021. This year is optional for counties and while Louth opted to pursue the former system this time 12 months ago, it would be surprising, on the evidence of last week’s gathering, if O’Raghallaighs’ motion to have the tried and trusted levels restored for 2020 isn’t successful.
Like the fanciful B Championship, this is another defective GAA attempt to prove themselves as a radical body. Quite frankly, it’s an effort to solve issues which aren’t there and if they are, ones county committees should be strong enough to deal with independently.
Maybe they should take a leaf out of the Louth executive’s early performance, and actually adhere to what people have to say.