By Michael McMullan
CAVAN u-20 manager Damien Donohoe is calling on Congress delegates to vote against Motion 2, which calls for an inter-county u-17 and u-20 championship merger into an u-19 grade.
The motion, brought forward by the GAA’s Ard Chomhairle, would see u-17 become a developmental age and the u-19 grade for three seasons.
“There won’t be a national competition at u-17 level, that’s a huge loss,” Donohoe told Gaelic Life, while using the example of how Derry or Offaly would’ve missed out on an All-Ireland under the new proposal.
“I know that (2020) minor All-Ireland to Derry was a big deal and to say it was a big deal for Offaly to win that (u-20) was an understatement.”
Over the last 20 years, 13 different counties have won the All-Ireland minor football championship and there were nine winners of the u-21u-20 grade. Of the six counties to have collected the Sam Maguire during this same spell, only Donegal didn’t win both underage grades.
“We are reducing the number of times a player can win an All-Ireland in their entire career,” Donohoe added.
“It is baffling to me, that the GAA think that this is going to be beneficial. The only ones this will benefit will be those top teams.”
From the Cavan u-17 squads of 2017 and 2018, only two players have advanced to the senior squad.
“Last year’s Cavan u-17s had a panel of 34 players,” Donohoe adds. “Six of those players are on the u-20 squad this year, the other 28 players are off the conveyor belt.
“They are going to be asked to jump back in next year. They are going to have missed the year of development and weren’t strong enough.”
Donohoe feels that if clubs don’t offer the same level of conditioning, their players will be lost to the inter-county game.
An online Gaelic Life survey, completed by club and inter-county players and managers from 20 different counties returned with 20 per cent in favour of Motion 2.
Donohoe commented how an u-19 grade would heap pressure on players sitting their Leaving Cert exams.
“When the u-17 (age) was brought in, they pedalled this idea that it would relieve the pressure,” said Donohoe, who states that ’65 per cent’ of students are taking a transition year and are completing their exams at 18.
He points out how they will be playing county football alongside whether MacRory Cup or Freshers football where some have scholarships requiring them to commit to the university team.
“We are putting more pressure on our Leaving Cert students by bringing in an u-19 competition than is currently there.”
Also on the agenda this weekend is Motion 39 that, if passed, would allow counties to run their underage competitions as they see fit.
Put forward by six clubs, the motion – receiving 70.7 per cent backing in our survey – could lead to a return of the u-18 grade for club players, something many feel would help bridge a pathway to senior.
Donohoe feels that should Motion 2 be passed, then Motion 39 and subsequent motions dealing with inter-county moving to u-18 will be dead in the water.
“In Cavan this (u-17 minor grade) has had a detrimental effect even within my own club,” Donohoe added.
Three players in their last year of underage felt they weren’t developed enough and their careers were over.
“We have had one lad who has come back this year. In fairness, he went away and worked on his strength and is training with us,” Donohoe added. “In two years we have lost seven players and we probably only had eight or nine in total.
“It’s detrimental, that extra year of development from 17 to 18 is absolutely huge for some. It’s alright for the elite player who is going to go on and step up because he knows he is at his best then. The rest of the guys who don’t feel they are ready yet, that’s the big problem.”