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'A realistic chance for counties who don't see the limelight': Dramatic proposal to revamp minor football

Clare club Cooraclare are proposing an overhaul of the U17 grade at this weekend’s GAA Congress.

ONE OF THE more interesting motions going up in Congress this weekend is the proposed revamp of the All-Ireland minor football championship from Clare club Cooraclare.

Eddie Horan, Niall Donohue and Chris O’Donoghue celebrate with the trophy Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Motion 18 proposes to completely restructure the national U17 competition by running it on a round-robin basis consisting of eight groups of four teams.

The new format would guarantee every inter-county minor side at least three games, with the weaker counties standing to benefit most.

Curiously, they suggest the CCCC decide on the seedings which would see the four top-ranked counties in the country placed in Group 1, the next four in Group 2 and so on.

The All-Ireland quarter-finals would consist of:

  • The top two placed teams from Groups 1, 2 and 3
  • The top placed team from Group 4
  • A play-off team

The play-off team comes from a knock-out phase involving the top placed teams from Groups 5, 6, 7 and 8. The winner of that phase faces the second placed team in Group 4 for a place in the All-Ireland quarter-final.

“The key thing for me on the motion is the CCCC would make their groups according to the standards of the teams,” Cooraclare chairman Joe Garry tells The42.

David Clifford and Sean Rouine Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

“Our initial plan was to work off the senior National Football League and divide the eight groups of four according to those proceedings, but that would be against general rule so we can’t do that. So now we’ve asked the CCCC to do it.

“We want the CCCC to look at the structure and give a guaranteed three games to the teams, but of an equal standing.”

At present, county sides who lose in the first-round of the Leinster and Munster championships in go into a backdoor system before they are reintroduced at the provincial semi-final stage. Connacht and Ulster are presently played on a straight knock-out basis, with sides guaranteed just one game.

Garry is a former Clare minor and U21 football boss, while he currently works as a GAA analyst with Clare FM. His issue with the current minor structure is that Clare could lose to Kerry twice in the one campaign – and their summer would be over.

“The idea that you’ve two chances in the minor championship… if you’re one of the weaker teams you could draw the very best team in the country in the first round and one of your two chances are gone,” he explains.

“And maybe, because they’re from the same province of you, you might meet them again if you did happen to win one round (in the backdoor).

Ross McGarry with Phillip Trainor and Eoghan Callaghan Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“That’s the situation in Munster. Kerry being the dominant force, if a team met them in the first round they could meet them again with only one round in between.”

Inevitably, there will be heavy opposition from the stronger counties at Congress. The proposed seeding means that only two of the four highest-rated minor teams in the country would make the All-Ireland quarter-finals. As a result, there could be some very one-sided games in the latter stages of the championship.

The teams ranked fifth and sixth in the country would stand a far better chance of winning the All-Ireland than the third and fourth placed teams, which isn’t exactly a fair system.

It also means that a Group 5 team would have to play six championship games to reach the last eight. While Garry proposes these games would be played midweek, as is currently the case in the minor championship, it threatens to seriously limit U17 club football activity in many counties during the summer.

The top two teams from Group 1, 2 and 3 would also face an extended wait while the final quarter-final team is determined.

“There’s no fear of football in the strong counties but we want to give a realistic chance to counties who often don’t see the limelight,” says Garry.

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Derry players celebrate Derry celebrate the Ulster minor title last July Source: Presseye/Philip Magowan/INPHO

“The provincial championship provides the same provincial winners invariably, history will tell you the strong counties favour that system and will continue to profit from that system.

“At the moment, Clare minor footballers played four Wednesday nights on the bounce last year.

“Invariably it’s played on a Wednesday night. At the moment counties are guaranteed two games, this will give them a guarantee of three in the All-Ireland championship and one provincial championship game.”

In addition, Garry would like to see the provincial minor championships retained on a knock-out basis, to act as a curtain-raiser for the senior provincial championships starting in May. The round-robin All-Ireland would follow once the provinces conclude.

“By all means have the provincial championship, it’s not worded in the motion, but we’d envisage the Munster championship for argument’s sake being played as a curtain raiser – but as knock-out,” he explains.

“The ideal thing for us would be the minor match would run according to the senior provincial championship. If Clare are playing Limerick in the first round of the senior football in May, the first round of the minor football championship in Munster would be a Clare-Limerick curtain-raiser.

“The junior isn’t working in Munster, only three teams entered it last year and probably less this year. The junior is not working. Why not give the U17 competition a bit more prominence at provincial level by playing it as a curtain-raiser to the relevant game?”

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