By Michael McMullan
A DERRY club feel the current odd underage format of u-13, u-15, u-17 and u-19 is “broken” and another year of underage, up to u-18, would help with player retention.
There has been renewed debate surrounding the pros and cons of underage currently organised in odd (u-13, u-15, u-17 and u-19) categories with even (u-12, u-14, u-16 and u-18) as per Tyrone and Armagh in 2023.
It comes ahead of Tuesday’s meeting of Derry CCC and clubs based on three options on the agenda.
The first option is to remain as it is with the odd numbers up as far as u-19, with u-17s not able to play adult games.
Option two would see even age groups with u-18 players not able to play adult club games.
A third option would be based on even numbers with players in their final year of u-18 allowed to play adult games.
Much of the debate centres around the gap between u-17 and adult action being too wide if the u-19 competition doesn’t offer enough games. There is also a concern among clubs with a smaller playing pool needing their older minor players to field.
In a document, seen by Gaelic Life, Magherafelt break their concerns of the “odds system” into three categories.
Firstly, they claim the u-19 competition “does not work” and doesn’t offer a “meaningful competition”.
“During the league, teams struggled to field, without county minors and u-20s,” the document outlined.
With the championship pushed back with the extended Derry minor run, exams and holidays, it looks like being pencilled into the November slot already occupied with school and university fresher games.
There is also the possibility of the senior champions pulling out of the competition.
Player welfare is the second item of concern for Magherafelt who, like all GAA clubs, look to attract as many young children into their structures from as young as five.
“We strive to provide an exceptional experience for children and young people so, when they leave u-17, they are able to join our adult structures with men ranging from 18 to 35 or 36,” the document outlined.
The elite and stronger players are better equipped to make the step but “too many” are not able or not prepared to make the transition, either mentally or physically, and drift away from adult football.
Magherafelt believe this is a result of the already difficult step made steeper with the increase in standards, physicality and training intensity.
“In underage football, they have grown up as a team, but in adult football they are now part of a much larger group with many different personalities and ages,” the document continued.
For a 17-year-old, the step can be “very intimidating” and an extra year of underage would be a help.
Thirdly, taking into consideration their values, dropout “doesn’t not sit well” with Magherafelt.
All through the younger ages, players are told of their value and importance within the club environment.
“Then, somehow, at a very sensitive age and when they are under a lot of pressure, this support structure is no longer there for them,” their document continued.
They point also to increasing mental health issues at a time when there is a lack of sporting opportunities compared to previous generations.
“We believe that our club, as well as the wider GAA community, has to do more for young people.
“We understand that player drop out is a complex issue with many contributing factors. Work needs to be done to better understand how the situation can be improved but it seems obvious that if we retain players for another year until u-18 then we have a better chance of retaining more young people.”