Cork’s smaller clubs are gearing up for a big debate
Given the seismic change in personnel and structure at Cork GAA and the painful issues surrounding the redevelopment of its €100million headquarters, the fate of the fourth tier of club and county player may go unnoticed by most. .
However, a vote on Tuesday night on the future of the county’s junior championships represents an important moment for the way Cork organizes its most heavily populated competitions. And to improve the standards and conditions under which its most important asset, the players, operate.
The County Board has undertaken a rigorous and well-received overhaul of its County Championships over the past two years, but the junior grades, involving 164 teams (72 in hurling, 92 in football) remain beyond the pale, semi- autonomous because of its divisional structures and traditions. It operated to its own rhythms and idiosyncrasies, each with its own quirks, systems and formats, rules and regulations.
In theory, it seems perfect for Cork’s eight divisions to produce a junior football and hurling champion to advance to the county quarter-finals – and for a long time. Some unquestionably boast that the Cork Junior Championship is the toughest of them all. AIB might even be proud. The arguments for maintaining and improving divisional championships are that nothing beats winning a local election.
However, the success of new ranks and structures in the senior and middle ranks has cast an unflattering spotlight on junior competitions. Senior clubs have grown accustomed to dynamic new leagues and want their second-tier teams, studded with budding talent, to be exposed to the same standards and structures at county level. The biggest clubs, along with the population and player base, say meaningful games are key to keeping the numbers going. It’s hard to argue with that.
There are three options to vote on Tuesday, but two in reality because the status quo is really no longer suitable. Proposal A cuts both hurling and competitive football to four grades (Premier Senior, Senior A, Intermediate and Premier Junior to 16 teams) and opinion polling indicates it is the councils’ preferred change division as it streamlines county competition and swells the divisions with a new infusion of reclassified clubs. This could turn out to be a double-edged sword. An increase in squads in 2023 campaigns may prove a tipping point in terms of manageability. An uncharitable narrative might suggest that some divisions are struggling to run their competitions as they are, let alone with an extra batch of clubs and games.
Proposal B redraws the ratings into five levels of 12 teams in both codes. There are already five in hurling, meaning the Lower Intermediate Championship would become the first 12-team Junior. In football, that would require an extra note – the four lowest teams in the current Intermediate Championship being joined by the eight junior division winners in 2023.
When looking at a division like Imokilly Hurling (East Cork) it is easy to understand a level of anxiety that quality will be taken out of their local championships. Such has been the success of East Cork hurling clubs that only three top teams – St Ita’s, Carrignavar and Cobh – remain in the JAHC division.
The counterpoint is that Proposal B only removes one additional team from each division. Like other ranks, relegation and promotion would be built into the new system.
Last week, Cork CEO Kevin O’Donovan gave an in-depth presentation of the respective merits of each proposal, and by common consent Tuesday’s vote will be very close, with legitimate arguments on both sides.
It is perhaps easy to compartmentalize the debate between senior clubs and county council versus smaller clubs in the divisions, but it has been portrayed as such, a power grab by the rich and the affluent against the small and the helpless. This is wrong, of course, and if the debate focuses squarely on what is best for the gaming population at this level, the debate should come to an appropriate conclusion.
What is agreed on all sides, however, is that junior club players want the opportunity to play against different and better opposition, rightly arguing that they should be exposed to the same standards as all other ranks. County.
The danger that Cork’s grassroots clubs and players – nothing represents the grassroots like junior clubs – will be alienated to some extent is real.
Glen Rovers chairman Liam Martin is in favor of the five-tier proposal on the grounds that it offers a better path for young players – and gives clubs in the city, challenged by other sports, a better chance to maintain healthy numbers. .
“It’s about retaining players and creating a pathway for all of them to play at the highest level they can achieve. The importance of this vote cannot be overstated – we want to create the most meaningful championship competitions possible for every player. We did it with the higher levels, and now it’s time to do the same with the Junior. He echoed a rebuke voiced in this country – that those out of the lowered U17 minor class have found themselves in limbo with no games – a county-wide Premier Junior rating will help give this cohort some action. significant championship.
Either way, Cork’s batch of teams – particularly football – will be helped by rating changes. Under Proposition A, the county’s 37th-best team will represent the county in a provincial championship that has become a virtual procession for Kerry. Even Proposal B would see the 49th-best team, an improvement from the current 53rd.
However, this is not the most important consideration. Cork has quietly put its internal affairs in order and sees this as a significant realignment of the most populous class in the most populous GAA county in the country.
A delegate called tonight’s decision “huge” for future county standards. Even allowing for the hyperbole, its importance is patently obvious.