Thursday 17 October 2019

Fixtures clash is where real problem lies

County Minor Aaron Maddock about to be hooked by Garrett Sinnott (Oulart - The Ballagh)
County Minor Aaron Maddock about to be hooked by Garrett Sinnott (Oulart - The Ballagh)

Brendan Furlong

County chairman Diarmuid Devereux, in his opening words to the special County Board meeting last Wednesday night acknowledged where the real problem lies - it's an adult versus under-age fixtures dilemma.

He warned County Board delegates, with the congregation also including club Chairmen and Secretaries, that the county had a problem and needed a solution. He asked people to go away from the meeting, discuss it with their clubs and report back with that solution.

The recent Minor review was paved with good intentions. While the proposed change to Under-17 from -18 seems to have been blown out of the water by clubs, now a further controversial proposal has arisen, a suggestion that 18-year-olds be barred from playing at adult levels.

Based on the levels of debate, this issue is becoming more and more confusing, now leading me to wonder what the motives behind these proposals really are. Sure we have a fixtures problem this year, not helped by the exploits of St. Martin's in both adult and under-age.

Great credit is due to this small rural-based club for having attained such progress, but why the panic? The wonderful feats of St. Martin's may not be achieved for many more years.

So why the warnings that young players' input is unsustainable, containing two of the most abused phrases in the G.A.A.: player burn-out' and 'player welfare'?

Player eligibility for competition will fail to come under either umbrella, particularly when two fixtures bodies appear to be at war over playing games at under-age and adult levels.

It was openly admitted that the two Premier Minor finals could have been played five to six weeks back. So, why were they not played?

This final pile-up at the end of each season, in both adult and under-age, could and should be avoided, particularly when the Minor championship begins in March and is not being completed until October/November.

We also have an adult championship that writes off the best months of summer, bizarrely giving a weekend in mid-championship for the completion of a meaningless league, when the championship proper could have been progressed.

Wexford already knows where the problem lies. It's in administrators fixing games and club managers organising training without proper consultation with parents and players.

Managers can only go with what information they have on how many times a week a player is training or playing. But responsibility must also be accepted by club officers or the County Board who must ensure that proper fixtures planning is in place.

In the Minor review it's suggested that a 'special welfare/advisory person' be appointed, but surely every single person in a club, every parent, and every player, is concerned about their players' welfare.

Players will always want to play as many games as possible but it's up to managers and clubs to ensure that the workload is evened out. Short-term annoyance and frustration may result, but long-term benefit is surely the promise for everyone involved.

While those attending the County Board meeting had every good intention, they are still finding it difficult to understand the real reasoning behind this debate.

Wexford has not won an All-Ireland Minor hurling title since 1968. This is not the fault of dual players, whether Under-18 or Under-17 prevails, but a clear lack of planning at under-age, which is now being addressed through the involvement of the colleges at Minor level which should help to focus the young players into the future.

In an effort to bring about change at Minor level, Wexford is seemingly hiding behind dual players, player welfare and player burnout, now bringing in the added lines of changing Under-18 to Under-17, seemingly a lost cause at this stage, but maintaining their momentum for change with the proposal of barring 18-year-olds from playing at adult levels.

The proposals from the G.A.A. Minor review group have certainly opened up debate, particularly in Wexford.

Wexford's proposal that youngsters be barred from adult competition would deprive many talented players of not alone assisting their clubs' adult sides, as witnessed with St. Martin's in last Sunday's Senior final, but also the likes of Conor McDonald who made his Senior inter-county debut when still a Minor. That could never happen again.

Dual players will not be taken lightly in Clare, Tipperary, Dublin and Cork, or many other dual counties where teenagers who show talent at both hurling and football are accommodated as much as possible.

The poster teams for Minor hurling and football this year were St. Martin's locally and Tipperary at inter-county where teenagers who displayed ability at both hurling and football were accommodated as much as possible.

Wexford feel that allowing players indulge their talent in both codes at inter-county Minor should be no longer if the Minor review is accepted in its entirety, while now taking this a glaring step further with the suggestion to ban 18-year-olds from adult competition.

Segregation in history hasn't really tended to be successful, and if the policy fails in Wexford, where do they turn to then? Surely it wasn't dual players that left the county without Minor and Under-21 All-Ireland success, or for that matter caused the loss to Westmeath in Minor hurling.

It might be argued that a G.A.A. player can ultimately only serve one master, and that may be true at Senior level, but at under-age understanding, compromise and vigilance are the key words.

Fixtures are correctly identified as the biggest issue facing a dual county such as Wexford. This is where the county should be focusing its energy, finding a fixtures strategy for both under-age and adult which can so easily be arrived at.

There needs to be focus on a complete fixtures plan, reducing the timeframe between games, having more mid-week games in both under-age and adult, while also having more floodlit games during the early season to progress fixtures while allowing for the three-week break for exams.

Most important is the need to have inter-county Minor re-introduced to midweek instead of Saturdays, and have Wexford double up with championship games at Senior inter-county where feasible.

It's only reasonable to suggest that Wexford G.A.A. change the direction of the Minor debate and concentrate solely on a fixtures plan.

Wexford People

Most Read