Westmeath to reject U19 championship proposals in Congress
Westmeath GAA clubs have unanimously rejected proposals to hold U19 Championships at inter-county level on a trial basis for the next three years.
The decision of club delegates, who met online last Wednesday evening, will be forwarded to the GAA Annual Congress at the NUI Galway/Connacht GAA Airdome in Bekan tomorrow (Saturday 26 February).
The second motion in a list of 48 proposes the introduction of an U19 grade at inter-county level for a trial period of three years (2023 to 2025), with the format and age range to be determined by the Central Council. This would replace the existing structures of the U20 Championship.
However, no voices in favor of the plan could be found among Westmeath clubs.
Westmeath minor board chairman Alan Leech from Killucan said it didn’t make sense that alongside this proposal there was another to return to even-age structures at the minor level.
Mr Leech said the structures for minors at Westmeath club level had been changed for a reason, with children starting national school at the age of five and transition year becoming a popular option at the high school, players generally did not complete their departure. Cert until age 19. Now the GAA seems to be backtracking on that, he said.
He suggested a return to even-age structures be pursued, with footballers/screamers aged 18 and under banned from playing adult games.
Des Maguire (Mullingar Shamrocks) said there was “too much change” with the age class structures. “We removed U21 and then brought it back to U20. Now we want to bring it back to U19,” he remarked.
“I think even ages are the best and easiest to deal with. We should leave U20 in place, especially with guys doing the Leaving Cert at 19. The current system appears to be acceptable.
Aiden McGuire (The Downs) supported MM. Leech and Maguire. He said it didn’t make sense to bring another competition into the fray, “cluttering an already crowded fixture schedule”.
When Westmeath GAA chairman Frank Mescall clarified there was no additional competition – U19 would replace U20 – Mr McGuire said it didn’t change the fact that the U19 proposal was a bad idea.
“There have been a whole series of cuts and changes and no serious examination has been done as to why there is such a drop in the number of participants after 17 years,” he said.
“We have to make up our minds. When you talk about competing codes, our rank structures seem to be at odds with everyone else in the sports arena.
Dermot Fox (Athlone) supported the opposition to Motion 2. He said the gap between under-19s and seniors was “too big” and further impairment of underage grades could turn out to be a “cure worse than the disease”.
Black card/hurling penalty
Meanwhile, there have been lengthy discussions over proposals to extend the tested sanction/black card decision in hurling for two years.
The rule is enforced for a foul that denies a goal opportunity in hurling.
Dermot Broughan (Cullion) said the motion was worth supporting and that it was important to continue to constructively tackle the issue of cynical fouling.
If the rule is scrapped, Mr. Broughan added, he wondered what, if anything, it would be replaced with.
Aiden McGuire (The Downs) said the decision put undue pressure on the referees for on-the-spot decisions, and he anticipated difficulties with that.
However, famed hurling umpire Barry Kelly (Mullingar Shamrocks delegate) has said he would like to see the rule extended.
“I wouldn’t like to see us promote a game where shooting a guy on the ground only gets a yellow card,” he said. “Most guys are capable of picking up a yellow card in one game and are smart enough not to get a second one.”
Mr Kelly said the rule rewarded skilled players and protected them from cynical play. He said this was backed up by the fact that last year’s Championship had yielded more goalscoring chances and more goals scored over a number of years.
“The players are capable of playing, and ten minutes on the touchline can be very punishing.”
Patrick Doherty, Chief Operating Officer of Westmeath GAA, presented some detailed reviews of the rule and determined that the penalty aspect of the rule is “too punitive”.
He said there were imperfections in the rule, and he didn’t see why it should be backed by clubs when it wasn’t perfect. He predicted it would put “desperate additional pressure” on referees at a time when referees were already being closely watched, judged and often brutalized for their decision-making.
Mr Doherty cited instances where the black card/penalty rule had been applied in the 2021 Championship when it should not have been.
“I don’t believe for a moment that hurling is perfect. I believe there are things that could be done that would help [stop] cynicism in the game. For example, why don’t we just bring a black card to hurling, all over the court? ” he said.
“I hate the idea of imaginary lines being drawn on the court. Words like ‘rule of thumb’. How can we have the words ‘rule of thumb’ in a rule for our games? And then, “in the opinion the referee, the player has been denied a goal-scoring opportunity”. Should the referee then decide on the player’s talent?
“I think we have to be very careful. There are other ways to do it, and I think we’re going too far with that.
Central Council delegates Tom Hunt (Mullingar Shamrocks) said GAA research into cynical foul statistics found that more than 90 per cent of fouls took place in the penalty area, which shed light on the Proposed rule change. This was based on the analysis of 25 hurling matches.
Dr Hunt said the rule helped reduce that pattern. While he admitted the term “rule of thumb” caused difficulties, he said it was about giving arbitrators some flexibility in making their decisions.
After further extensive debate, it was decided that Westmeath GAA would vote in favor of the motion in Congress.