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changes Peter Canavan throws his weight behind his club’s Congress move to restore minor to U-18 grading

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Former Tyrone footballer Peter Canavan. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Former Tyrone footballer Peter Canavan. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Peter Canavan

Peter Canavan

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Former Tyrone footballer Peter Canavan. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Tyrone’s first All-Ireland-winning captain Peter Canavan has added his significant weight behind a motion to Congress seeking to allow counties to determine their own underage grades.

If successful, counties could unhook from the odd number (U-13-U-15-U-17-U-19) pathway that GAA policy allows for and restore the main last underage grade to U-18 (minor).

Canavan is vice-chair of Errigal Ciarán, one of the clubs who have submitted a motion to Congress to that effect seeking the reversal. Over the weekend they contacted counties directly to set out their case in a letter spelling out the pitfalls of continuing with the current pathway.

“We understand that when the change was made to 15, 17, 19, that the intention was that it would improve player pathway with a meaningful U-19 competition key to that success. But, as was called out at the time, the overlap of U-19 with senior/reserves is too great and it is almost impossible to play a prolonged competition at U-19 club level,” the letter stated.

“A particular concern are the perceived weaker lads, who may never enter an adult dressing-room in any event, but who enjoy the training and camaraderie during their underage career,” the letter continued.

“At that critical age of 17, their networks are closed a year earlier, from 18 down to 17 years of age. Some of these lads will go on to be the best administrators our clubs ever had, others will drop out as they lose the connection with the club,” the Errigal Ciarán letter warned.

Canavan said the move away from U-18 was always “high risk” at club level. “And to date the results would indicate, if you are speaking to a lot of people on the ground, U-19 hasn’t worked whereas U-18 competition was getting unequivocal support,” he said.

“That’s not apparent. I know in Tyrone a number of clubs that pulled out of U-19, it was just a non-entity. That left it that U-17 was the last meaningful competition that young lads were getting and certainly, the step up is too big from U-17 to senior level. That was very much our take on it from a club point of view. That extra year is massive for young lads before they move into the senior grade.”

Canavan said the issue was greater for smaller clubs where overlap is more prevalent due to numbers.

“It’s well documented in recent years, the drop-off rate in Gaelic games compared to other sports, and it is all from 18 on.

“What we are effectively doing is increasing that if U-17 is the last meaningful competition.

“I know the idea of U-19 is well intentioned but the fact of the matter is it doesn’t work and it will not work because so many players, especially in smaller clubs, your best U-19s, of course they are going to be playing senior football and that is the priority. So it doesn’t wash.

“If we are going to look for a more productive pathway then it has to revert back to the way it was,” Canavan said.

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Canavan added his club are also against switching U-20 to U-19 at inter-county level and making U-17 a purely developmental grade.

“Talk about turkeys voting for Christmas. Why would we deprive young lads two opportunities to get to represent the county?” he asked.

“Now, the proposal in a few years will effectively be that the only meaningful competition for a player to represent his county at underage is U-19. Everything else will be developmental. In terms of development, U-19 is not enough, it’s only one (grade) and again, it’s too long to ask young lads who are coming out of school who are ready to take the next step at county level. They are going to have to wait until 19.”

A number of clubs in Down and Carrickedmond in Longford have submitted similar motions to Errigal Ciarán’s but Corduff, the club of
four-time All-Ireland football final referee Pat McEnaney, have withdrawn theirs on the proviso that Monaghan GAA will set aside time for a meaningful U-19 competition.

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