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Pictured Oisin McConville

Date: Wednesday 5th May 2010

Location: Studio

Photographer: Liam McBurney

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Liam McBurney

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Let's not kid around... GAA is failing its younger players

Oisin McConville


Derry manager Mickey Donnelly
Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Tommy Dickson

Derry manager Mickey Donnelly Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Tommy Dickson

©INPHO/Tommy Dickson

Derry manager Mickey Donnelly Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Tommy Dickson

The GAA seems to have got itself into an extremely uncomfortable position following its decision to arrange a raft of early-season competitions that, rather than having solved problems, appear to have sparked a fixtures quagmire.

I think it is fair to say that the current problems have evolved from the initial decision to leave April a 'club-only' month with all inter-county activity put on the back burner - a noble aspiration in the eyes of some but as it turns out not the most practical remedy to the fixtures conundrum.

The wholesale cancellation of the Ulster U20 Football Championship Quarter-Finals and the axing of several Allianz League hurling and football ties last weekend due to the weather merely compounded the fixture-makers' woes - and this after one of the mildest Januarys on record.

With Quarter-Finals in the MacRory Cup having also been postponed, this left Ulster Colleges Council officials battling against the clock to shoehorn their games into the amended calendar.

During January, the Conor McGurk and Kehoe Cup Finals were staged, the Sigerson Cup was up and running, the McKenna Cup competition was staged, the MacRory Cup progressed, the All-Ireland Club Semi-Finals and Final were played and the Allianz Football League got under way.

But in the course of attempting to expedite competitions at different levels, fixtures administrators have perhaps unwittingly imposed big pressures on under-age players in particular.

Over the course of recent weeks, I have been bombarded with complaints from all sides in relation to the congested fixtures list with which we have been confronted since the beginning of the year.

And I have to conclude that we have reached a point where a much clearer vision of what lies ahead in terms of under-age and colleges' football in particular is required.

I would go so far as to state that the Association is currently failing its younger players and the potential consequences of this could prove disastrous.

The recent tampering with the under-age brackets - the U17 competition replacing the Minor sector and the U20 grouping taking the place of the U21 level - has certainly not brought any meaningful impetus to the fixtures calendar.

Last week, two inter-county U20 team bosses, Mickey Donnelly (Derry) and Peter McDonnell (Armagh), expressed grave reservations about the demands being made on young players because of the congested schedule.

When you hear someone like the dedicated Mickey Donnelly (left) refer to the fixtures and competitions set-up at under-age level as "a real disaster" you just know that remedial action is required.

And when Peter McDonnell, a hugely respected mentor, pinpoints obvious conflicts of interests that young players are forced to confront, it certainly strengthens the argument that amendments are required.

While I am aware that Central Council as the governing body of the GAA is responsible for rubber-stamping most decisions while others must get the green light from Congress, I believe that stronger day-to-day leadership should be provided by Ard Stiurtoir Tom Ryan.

From my observations, there is too much confusion in relation to the staging of under-age inter-county competitions while colleges' football appears to be getting treated in a rather off-hand manner.

I know that football at these levels is regarded as being 'down the bill' but it is worth pointing out here that these competitions comprise the arena in which our stars of the future take their first important steps.

This being the case, we need clarity and cohesion in terms of fixtures and their slot in the annual calendar.

Obviously the introduction of Tier Two of the All-Ireland Football Championship will loom large in forthcoming meetings but I don't think this should be at the cost of other competitions.

There appears to be an almost indecent haste to get some competitions put to bed while others float in mid-air.

I am particularly perturbed that the Sigerson Cup appears to have been somewhat downgraded. The Final has traditionally been played in March, as have the club Finals, yet they are now shoe-horned into the month of January which is now laden with fixtures with Semi-Finals played in midweek.

I believe that a visionary plan should be drawn up in relation to football at this level which will lead to the eradication of grey areas, more joined-up thinking in the approach to under-age football in general and proper status accorded to the competitions so that players can derive maximum enjoyment from their involvement.

Sport the winner after our evening of 2 halves

WHEN I was invited to participate in the 'An Evening of 2 Halves' concept in the Europa Hotel, Belfast, I had mixed feelings in so far as I was unsure how the guests would react to a first half of discussion on current rugby issues and a second half assessment of topical GAA matters.

In the event, I need not have worried. The occasion proved a stunning success, so much so that the organisers are now hoping to transport it to New York.

Along with Tyrone legend Peter Canavan and multiple Kerry All-Ireland winner Tomás O Sé, I formed the GAA panel with Frank Mitchell holding the mic while Rory Best, Chris Henry and Stephen Ferris comprised the rugby team with Darren Cave posing the questions.

I must say it was a very interesting and indeed informative occasion and the response from the audience was both knowledgeable and enthusiastic.

I thought it was a great way of bringing the two sports together under the one roof as it were and offering a fascinating insight into various issues relative to both codes.

I think sport was the real winner at the end of the night because once again we had observed how two communities can come together and share experiences, anecdotes and indeed philosophies in a convivial atmosphere.

There is no doubt that sport can still wield a major bonding influence in this part of the world and this is well worth cherishing in my view.

I must say I got my knowledge of rugby broadened and at the same time made new friends and contacts. I left Belfast thinking that more occasions such as this could only serve to further cement the relationship between different sporting bodies in the province.

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