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Seán Moran: GAA considers underage revamp and raising maximum suspension to five years

Proposals before this weekend’s central council meeting are tacit recognition that local administration often fails to enforce rules

At the launch of the GAA’s Respect the Referee initiative in October, association president Larry McCarthy was asked about the possibility of intensifying scrutiny of suspensions in order to weed out the gratuitously lenient.

Whereas he was in favour, theoretically, he felt such oversight was impractical.

“Ideally, yes we’d love to have it but I don’t think we’ve the bandwidth to do that, to have a disciplinary tsar looking over each county and each red card that’s applied. We are dependent on the county committees to apply the rules. We need to support them from a simple position to do that.”

The headline-grabber is the raising of top suspension from two years to five years

This Saturday’s central council meeting will be considering proposals of the committee, which was promised that same day. Interestingly, they provide some impetus towards a more interventionist line on discipline.


The headline-grabber is the raising of top suspension from two years to five years but given that the problems have arisen more from the reluctance to impose the toughest sanctions rather than the nature of them, more will be needed to address the bad behaviour.

At a meeting with their FAI counterparts last autumn, GAA officials noted that in the wake of some high-profile assaults on soccer referees in the previous year or so, those hearings go straight to national level to move them beyond the special pleading of local interests and their quid pro quo temptations.

It is accordingly significant that the GAA has followed suit, specifying that if someone charged with category VI infractions (players) or category Va (team officials) — offences against match officials — any challenge to a proposed penalty will not be heard by the county hearings committee but by Croke Park’s Central Hearings Committee.

That is accompanied by a proposal to empower hearings committees, in general, to double the available minimum penalty unless “satisfied that the defending party’s request for a hearing, and their submission to the hearings committee, is not frivolous or vexatious and is not solely based on procedural or technical arguments”.

Any queasiness that such a measure could result in a one-way ticket to the DRA (Disputes Resolution Committee) were someone to base a challenge on say, a procedural error, was allayed by the presence of the GAA’s most experienced legal operatives, Liam Keane, Matt Shaw and Brian Rennick on the task force.

There is also a provision for a hearings committee to remit a case for reprocessing, presumably to iron out any procedural flaws.

Hearings committees, who find an infraction “not proven” will have to substantiate that decision.

Saturday will see a packed clár and the other big issue to be considered will be the recommendations by the task force appointed to look into the whole area of age grades. Most won’t go to a vote until a later stage but the report will be presented.

It was a thankless job. The in-depth talent academy report endorsed shifting the GAA’s age grades from even to odd years so that under-14, -16 and -18 would be replaced by under-13, -15 and -17. Despite the detailed arguments in favour of this move to address the enormous dropout rate in Gaelic games, it quickly became clear that not all counties supported the change.

Reactions however indicated a central reality for the GAA across the board. Not all clubs are operating in the same environment. Bigger populations are better able to have minor at under-18 with full decoupling. Smaller catchments are more likely to need 18-year-olds involved.

So the taskforce proposed an a la carte approach. It’s up to counties themselves. They can go with the status quo and have under-17 as their oldest grade, as is favoured by Galway, or they can raise the minor age to under-18, as Kildare did this year. In both cases, all such players would be decoupled from senior involvement.

Of the nine Ulster counties, only Antrim opposed a switch back to 14-16-18.

The third option is the most controversial, allowing counties to adopt the 14-16-18 structure but allowing the final age grade to participate at the adult level with certain safeguards.

This appears to fly in the face of the advances made in fixture administration and the conditions or safeguards are stringent in terms of when the 18s can be used and also in the requirement for a waiver to be signed — a process that many parents would probably find daunting.

Unfortunately, the intercounty championship does not have the option of an a la carte solution

Counties were fairly evenly split on the choice between odd and even years but the permissive nature of the proposal presumably ensures its success.

At intercounty level, there is likely to be less consensus, as the proposal is for minor at under-17 and under-19. The latter would replace under-20 and previously under-21.

Unfortunately, the intercounty championship does not have the option of an a la carte solution. It’s hard to know how delegates will vote on whether to send the proposal to congress but last February a similar proposal got nearly 56 per cent support, just short of the required 60, for the introduction of under-17 and under-19 on a three-year trial.