A former leading Donegal GAA official and current club manager has accused the GAA this week of losing touch with its grassroots.
Ardara manager, John McConnell, a former Donegal chairman, made the accusation when contacted by the Democrat about two new rules in relation to player eligibility which were passed at last February’s annual GAA Congress in Cavan.
The first of the rules, which were passed, means that 17-year-olds can no longer play adult football/hurling (senior or reserve ) for their club.
As and from 2016 a player must have reached his 18th year before he can now play adult football/hurling.
The second change rules that a county minor cannot play club football/hurling until the county minor team have completed their championship let that be in the provincial or All-Ireland series.
“The 17 year-old rule does not affect us in Ardara that much but I can see where it can create difficulty for junior and Intermediate clubs,” said John McConnell.
“The change that will affect us and the one I have the greater difficulty with is where a county minor is not being allowed play with his club until the county team are finished their championship,” added the Ardara manager.
“It is a crazy decision. The GAA seem to have forgotten where the players come from. Players are first and foremost club players.
“There would be no Michael Murphy only for Glenswilly and all the coaches that worked with Michael down the years since he was a young boy.
“Now because of this change clubs are going to have to play without their best young players. This applies to all clubs, senior, intermediate and junior but even more so intermediate and junior teams. A county minor in an intermediate and junior club is often their big player.
“If under this rule, a county team were to have a good run, say like Donegal had last year to the All-Ireland final, the player would miss out on the bulk of the club season.
“The rule is going to have a detrimental effect on clubs and could be the difference between having a good season and a poor season.”
These sentiments were also echoed by Paddy McDaid, manager of Termon senior football team, who play in Division Two of the Donegal ACFL.
“We would hope to have two players in the county minor squad next year and the rule, if implemented, will have a serious effect on our season next year,” said McDaid.
“We are working off a small panel of players and these two players are important players in our team this year and will be again next year.
“If Donegal were to go on a good run in the championship, which we would all hope for, it would be a big blow to us not to have those players. It could be the difference between a successful season and a not so successful one.”
“The rule in relation to 17-year-olds not being allowed to play adult football will not effect Termon next season. But it would have affected them in a big way if it had been in place in 2015.
“We have up to seven 17-year-olds in our senior squad this year and there are also a number of 17-year-olds in the reserve squad,” explained McDaid.
“We had a good crop of players that moved up from U-16 at the beginning of the year and if that rule had been applied we would not have been able to play them this year. This would have meant we would have had bother fielding two teams at times this season.
“It is not going to be a problem for us next year because all those lads are 18, but players come in cycles and I have no doubt it will affect us again in the future,” added the Termon boss.
Intermediate club Aodh Ruadh and junior clubs Naomh Ultan and Naomh Padraig, Muff, are three clubs who have grave concerns about both new rules.
“We have three players in the county U-16 squad and we have at least another three U-16 that should be moving up to play at least for the reserve team next year,” Naomh Ultan chairman Terence McGinley told the Democrat.
“We are not sure if we are going to have a minor team next year and if we don’t those six players will have no football next season at all and they could be lost to the GAA.
“They are crazy rules and they don’t make any sense whatsoever and really affects a small club like ours. It will also mean we will struggle to field a reserve team next year.”
Packie McGrath, Aodh Ruadh, and Michael McMenamin in Muff - one of only two delegates at this year’s Congress that spoke against the motions proposing the rules - also have serious difficulty with the rule changes.
The changes came about following recommendations of a National Minor Review Group which reviewed underage football and hurling. The main objective of the rules are to rid the association of the thorny issue of player burnout.