Seán Moran: Colleges’ failure to clarify eligibility issue puts fine tradition at risk

Rows give clubs and counties added reason to regard third-level games as nuisance

Mary Immaculate College, Limerick  manager Eamonn Cregan with player Declan Hannon. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Mary Immaculate College, Limerick manager Eamonn Cregan with player Declan Hannon. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

 

Even now, well into their second century, the GAA’s third-level education competitions continue to occupy a sort of demi monde as far as the Gaelic games community outside the halls of academia is concerned.

The past few weeks of squabbling over player eligibility, which up until yesterday’s Disputes Resolution Authority ruling threatened to derail Limerick IT’s Fitzgibbon weekend, have been unedifying and potentially destructive to the competitions.

You can’t get too alarmist about these eligibility issues – it’s not as if they’re a new phenomenon – but there’s currently a long overdue focus on the demands being placed on young players at this time of the year.

It’s not as if the competitions need to create added ambivalence within the GAA at large. The third-level sector is always wandering into the gunfire of those who regard the whole thing as at best a nuisance and at worst an indulgence.

The small crowds that attend the matches is used as evidence of their irrelevance. Dual eligibility for county championships in a player’s home club as well as college is always resented on the odd occasion a college side does well, and the irritation of some county managers at the prospect of their players’ missing training sessions is commonplace in the early part of the year, as it is when players must line out in the secondary provincial competitions with their college rather than county.

In other words, when it comes to motive, the Fitzgibbon and Sigerson are travelling on the Orient Express.

In-house contests

Galway

Abuses may not have begun in recent years but they have grown. In the past week I heard anecdotal evidence about players with fruitful careers on the field never passing a single exam and players with no connection to a college lining out in important matches.

Unworkable As Eamonn Cregan, coach of Mary Immaculate College whose challenge was heard by the DRA yesterday, said before the hearing, rules have to observed; otherwise the competitions become unworkable.

Nonetheless something needs to be done to try to remove the possibility of the sort of things that happened this month re-occurring.

You do, however, hesitate to advocate tightening up the rules to an organisation already obliged to enact such knotty eligibility provisions as rule 31 (b) of their constitution: “Where a student, having successfully completed an undergraduate course and having attained the award attached to the course at level six or seven of the National Framework of Qualifications [NFQ] in the Republic of Ireland, (levels four or five of the Framework for higher education qualifications in England, Wales and Northern Ireland [FHEQ] or levels eight and nine of the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework [SCQF]) progresses from that level to a cognate course at the next higher level, he shall be considered as studying the same course, provided the higher level course shall be at a level not higher that Level 8NFQ (level 6 FHEQ or level 10 SCQF).”

Soon some enterprising college will be able to offer a four-year degree course in the CA constitution.

Possible remedy

Each third-level institution would forward their panel of players and there would then be a period during which rival colleges could peruse the lists and if they so wished challenge anyone’s eligibility. Once concluded, this process would bullet-proof any player against further challenge.

There would – inevitably – be issues with this. The conventional autumn-to-summer academic year isn’t a size that fits all. Some of the vocational courses cater for apprenticeships and the need for block release (full-time courses lasting a few months), which can start in January as well as September.

At present, autumn enrolments are entitled to play league and new year enrolments are eligible for championship (Fitzgibbon and Sigerson). The latter don’t, however, constitute a large number of students and one solution would be to allow a maximum of two panel changes in early January, which would also be open to scrutiny from competitor colleges.

One way or the other, in-competition challenges have to come to an end if the Fitzgibbon and Sigerson are to maintain what despite the cavilling has been a valued and valuable tradition within the GAA.

smoran@irishtimes.com

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