U-20 football championship move puts player development under threat
Switching age grade to earlier in the year may put additional pressure on young players
Kerry’s David Clifford didn’t get to play under-20 after his exploits at minor. Photograph: Gary Carr/Inpho
News that the All-Ireland under-20 football championship is to revert to earlier in the year, with its semi-finals or final to fill the St Patrick’s Day slot formerly given over to the senior club finals, has raised issues about the nature of the under-age championship introduced two years ago.
Originally it was intended to be purely developmental and involve footballers who weren’t on senior county panels. It was played during the summer and although players could join the seniors once the county under-20s had exited the age-grade championship, they all had to choose between senior and under-20 at the start of the summer.
It meant that Kerry All Stars David Clifford and Seán O’Shea didn’t get to play under-20 after their exploits at minor, but Offaly’s Cian Johnson was an example of a player who was directed the other way.
With the championship now taking place in the spring, there will be nothing to prevent players playing both in the age grade and in the national league, as the relevant rule simply states that no player who has taken part in the senior championship can compete at under-20.
That won’t now arise in championship, as all counties will have concluded at under-20 before the senior championship begins.
Croke Park sources, however, believe that a restriction may be introduced to prevent players being involved with their county’s league campaign as long as their under-20 championship is still running.
The report is due for completion soon but no decision has yet been made on its publication date
“I think,” according to one official, “there will be people looking to put a restriction on players to the effect that only those who haven’t played in the AFL will be eligible for the under-20 championship. That will follow but will it follow in time for 2020? I doubt it. Central Council could introduce a provision, but it wouldn’t have the force of rule.
“I would be surprised if the Fixture Calendar Review committee didn’t include in its report a recommendation that if the under-20 championship is to be played in February and March, then one of the conditions should be that any player who plays in the national league should be ineligible for it.”
The report is due for completion soon but no decision has yet been made on its publication date.
As things stand, there is no way to introduce such restrictions in time for 2020, as it would require a rule change, and annual congress doesn’t take place until February next and it is unlikely that a special congress would be called between then and now.
In relation to the St Patrick’s Day date, there is clearly a view that a programme of matches should continue to be played on the national holiday.
The date has had a traditional status in the GAA for more than 90 years since the Railway Cup was established and its finals held annually on March 17th, until the All-Ireland club finals took over the spot in the 1980s. These finals have now been brought back to January as a transitional arrangement, with a calendar-year season the ultimate goal.