Donegal Under 21 team manager Declan Bonner yesterday said he was “totally opposed” to the proposed axing of the U-21 championship in Director General, Paraic Duffy’s report, published earlier this week.
In a comprehensive review of the thorny issue of player burn-out, the GAA Director proposes getting rid of the very popular U-21 championship because of the impossible demands placed on the 17-21 players in the early part of the season.
And, while acknowledging the huge difficulties placed on younger players, Bonner said it would be helpful if Under 21 players did not play in the senior National Football League until their county was out of the Under 21 championship.
“I am totally opposed to its going as it is a very good competition and is the ideal way for players to make the transition from minor to senior football.
“But it is very difficult to get a solution.
“Some Under 21 players are involved in the Dr McKenna Cup, National Football League, Freshers and Sigerson competitions in a very crowded time of the year.
“But it might help if they were excused from playing in the National Football League at least until the U-21 competition was over.
“I know senior managers want to get a look at players but they can see them in other competition and it is a very long season.
“I can see where Paraic Duffy is coming from and there is a major issue of player burn out.
‘We have a number of players training for the Donegal seniors and we will not have them until January 1 but that is the beginning of a really busy season for us.
“90 per cent of our panel is away in Dublin, Galway or Belfast and it is very hard to get them all together.
“Already two key players Stephen McBrearty and Darach O’Connor have gone through cruciate ligament injuries and they are only around 20”.
Bonner added he was aware that the abolition of the competition that Donegal won in 1982 and 1987 and provided the bulk of the All-Ireland senior victors in 1992, would reduce serious pressure on the elite 17 to 21-year-old in that bottle neck period between January and April.
But Bonner and some other U-21 managers have been surprised that no alternative dates have been pencilled in for the competition.
“They should keep it and it is a very good stepping stone from minor to senior.
“I think they should really think of maybe getting alternative dates for it to be run off rather than axing it altogether.
“Our squad is mostly made up of last year’s minors so we will be quite young but we are looking forward to this competition”.
Donegal reached the All-Ireland final in 2010, under Jim McGuinness and have been in the past few Ulster finals under Maxi Curran.
The U-21 proposal is one of a number of proposals in Duffy’s report. The main proposals are as follows
(i) at inter-county level only, the minor (i.e. U-18) hurling and football competitions to be re-graded as minor U-17 and to be played alongside the senior championships, as is the case with the current minor championships;
(ii) the U-21 football championship to be discontinued. (It is not proposed to change the U-21 hurling championship as its scheduling does not encourage players to play on multiple teams simultaneously.)
In the area of “the predominance of inter-county fixtures in the January-September period”, a number of different proposals are made relating to the National Leagues and the championships.
In terms of the National Leagues, Páraic Duffy proposes the following:
(i) increase the number of two-code weekends in the National Leagues (i.e. hurling and football played on the same weekend)
(ii) discontinue the National Football League Division One semi-finals
(iii) establish in rule that players who are not in the inter-county match-day panel of twenty-six must be available to their clubs on the weekends of National League and senior inter-county championship games.
For the championships, the following is proposed:
(i) bring the All-Ireland senior football and hurling finals forward by playing the All-Ireland Hurling Final on the second-last Sunday in August and the All-Ireland Football Final on the first Sunday in September.
(ii) complete the All-Ireland U-21 hurling championships before the All-Ireland Senior Hurling Final
(iii) replays in the provincial and All-Ireland senior championships to take place only after extra time has been played
(iv) discontinue the All-Ireland Junior football and Intermediate hurling championships.
For the final key area, “the need for a calendar-year fixtures schedule”, there is one proposal, namely:
(i) Introduce a calendar-year fixtures schedule.: