Strong backing as uneven age grades are retained
By Shane Brophy
GAA underage grades in Tipperary will remain unchanged for 2024 after club delegates were overwhelmingly in support of retaining uneven ages at the November Tipperary County Board meeting on Monday night.
While a number of counties such as Limerick and Cork have voted in recent weeks to return to even ages of U12, 14 16 & 18, Tipperary clubs backed the retention of U13, 15 & 17 to such an extent that there was no seconder for an Upperchurch/Drombane motion for the return of even age grades.
Opening the debate, County Coiste na nOg Chairperson Tommy Landers, who was originally against the change to uneven ages in 2021, said retaining the status quo was the best way for players to develop, citing the extra number of games players have received at under 15 & 17 level with the creating of cross-divisional leagues prior to the championships being played, with sixteen and seventeen year olds receiving on average 20-25 games in hurling and football per year over the last two years.
On top of that, with minor at under 17 there is no crossover with adult grades with under 17 games on a Monday, under 19 on Wednesday’s and under 15 on Thursdays.
The main reason why clubs backed the retention of the uneven ages was the fact that is it national rule for non-competitive competitions at under 12 with under 13 the earliest a league or championship can be played with ‘A’ & ‘B’ grades at thirteen aside, ‘C’ grade at 11 aside and ‘D’ grade at 9 aside which creates more opportunities for players to play and clubs to field more than one team.
Proposing the return to even ages, Michael Griffin of Upperchurch/Drombane felt that eighteen year olds were not getting enough games and that a return of minor to under 18 is important at such an impressionable age.
The motion to retain the juvenile age grades of under 13, 15 & 17 was passed without dissent but there was plenty of discussion regarding the under 19 & 21 competitions with a Knockavilla-Donaskeigh Kickhams motion for the creation of one under 20 grade to replace those two grades failing after a vote, 49-25.
Seamus O’Dwyer of Knockavilla-Donaskeigh Kickhams cited the demands on players between the ages of 17 and 21 between club, schools, colleges, and some inter-county players.
“For smaller clubs, there is a very significant level of player overlap within these teams making it very challenging to meet fixture requirements and leading to significant injury.
“The current under 21 championship is run as an “also-ran” due to the fixture overload.
“Pitches are barely playable at this time of the year and in its current form clubs are only guaranteed one match at under 21 level in its straight knockout format.”
Proposing the retention of both the under 19 & 21 grades, Silvermines John Sherlock said the under 21 grade provides good intense games but admitted it is not ideal in playing it at this time of the year but if there was no competition players would instead take up other sports to fill the void.
Nicholas Moroney of St Patrick’s said there is merit in one under 20 grade but suggested that a plan on how it would be structured would be required before doing away with under 19 & 21.
Michael Griffin of Upperchurch/Drombane highlighted that if under 20 replaced under 19 that there would be more of an overlap of players with adult teams and could lead to fixture problems.
County CCC Chairperson Jimmy Minogue said there is “no proper fix” to the under 19, 20 & 21 age grades and when those competitions can ideally be played to suit everyone, before calling for a vote which went almost 2-1 in favour of the status quo.
Upperchurch/Drombane were successful in one of their two motions for tweaks to regulations for county championships.
Firstly, the motion that if a club wins a divisional championship and also finish second in a group, they are exempt from being drawn into a preliminary quarter final, was passed.
However, there was considerable objection to their motion proposing that a divisional champion who finishes bottom of their group, cannot take up their preliminary quarter final place and thereby go directly into the relegation playoffs, something that occurred with Clonoulty/Rossmore at senior level this year which saw the relegation games delayed as they progressed in the championship after winning a preliminary quarter final.
Unsurprisingly, Clonoulty/Rossmore led the charge against the motion while Gilbert William’s of Kilruane MacDonaghs was also against it citing it would weaken the link between the divisional and county championships.
The county football committee were successful in their efforts to continue the process of reducing the number of clubs in the senior and intermediate grades to twelve teams after it saw off a motion from Ardfinnan to return the senior championship to sixteen teams.
Fourteen teams will take part in the 2024 senior football championship with 2 groups of 4 & 1 group of 6 following the relegation of three teams in 2023 and the promotion of intermediate champions Grangemockler/Ballyneale. The same format will apply next year which will mean twelve teams will be in place for 2025.
William Nagle of Ardfinnan argued that this year’s sixteen team championship was better for the promotion of football to have more clubs and players playing at the highest level, citing the competitive nature of this year’s championship where of the 24 games played, fourteen were decided by five points or less.
“The senior championship is competitive and compares well with the hurling format,” he said, adding that the three teams relegated this year, Eire Og Annacarty, Moycarkey/Borris, and Rockwell Rovers all won one game in the group stage of the championship.
Football committee chairperson Conor O’Dwyer disagreed that the senior football championship was as competitive as its hurling equivalent, citing the predictability of the teams getting to the latter stages of the championship.
In reducing the number of teams, it was to make the championship more competitive, saying it was too easy for clubs to retain their senior status despite doing very little training for football.
“If you want to remain a senior club in Tipperary, it demands a certain level of effort,” he said, although this was challenged by West Board secretary John Morrissey who said that comment was harsh on those clubs.
Going to a vote, the plan to continue with the reduction of senior and intermediate clubs to twelve each along with a new premier junior grade of six teams was confirmed, however, CCC secretary Tom Maher highlighted the possibility of the new premier junior grade having nine teams should Borrisokane, Cashel King Cormacs and Clonoulty/Rossmore opt to compete after they pulled out of last years intermediate championship which meant they were automatically relegated.
The football committees proposal for an all-county under 21 football championships was rejected as was Newcastle’s motion for an all-county championship for junior ‘A’ & ‘B’ football championship.
County Leagues in hurling and football will see the introduction of promotion and relegation in 2024. One team will be promoted, and one team relegated, but it will apply to divisions 1 & 2 only, on a trial basis, as divisions below that can see teams opt in and out on a yearly basis, but if it is successful, promotion and relegation can be applied to lower divisions in the years to come.
A Drom & Inch motion proposing start dates for the hurling leagues be pushed back from St Patrick’s weekend was taken as a recommendation, citing the difficulty in playing games due to so many other things going on over those days.