One of the less publicized recommendations of the 2019 fixture review task force report was that post-primary competitions in Classes C and D be concluded at the Provincial Finals.
The committee’s final report contained 32 recommendations, chief among which were three separate proposals to reshape SFC All-Ireland, and so, unsurprisingly, there was virtually no attention given to denying a large cohort of pupils in the secondary the possibility of competing for All-Ireland. -Ireland honors.
That’s not to say, however, that the recommendation has gone completely under the radar.
At a County Cork board meeting in the months after the report was published, Castletownbere’s delegate criticized the unfairness of the recommendation and the message it sent.
Dara Crowley, an engineering and technology teacher at Beara Community School in Castletownbere, was another who took a dim view of the proposal at the time.
The task force recommended that post-primary A and B football competitions across Ireland should be completed by the last weekend of January each year, but due to the ‘large number’ of schools involved at C levels and D, meeting this deadline would be close to impossible and so they concluded that lower level competitions should be played only until the provincial finals.
Fortunately, Crowley says, the proposal never materialized. Because if that were the case, his students would not be looking forward to an All-Ireland Senior D football final on Saturday afternoon against Our Lady’s College Belmullet (Gurteen, 2 p.m.).
“I remember when I first heard this proposal, I couldn’t get over it. I just thought it was unfair and elitist, you would have crushed the smaller schools,” Crowley remarked. I know we are always looking to improve the GAA and decisions are being made to try to improve things, but that would have been a step backwards.”
Crowley was part of the Kenmare Shamrocks side that reached an All-Ireland junior club final in 2013 and an intermediate semi-final four years later. Although the All-Ireland silverware was not collected on any occasion, the respective trips are ones he and his teammates will never forget. He knows it will be the same story for the group of students he co-manages with Cian O’Connell. He also knows how important this All-Ireland run will be for the Beara Peninsula’s small pocket of clubs and will ensure those clubs retain some of their brightest talent when they depart for the third tier next September. .
“Success breeds success. If you’re working or at university in Cork City and traveling two and a half hours to Garnish or Urhan or wherever, it’s a tough trip when the results don’t go your way. But when you win and succeed, that journey gets much shorter. That’s why these school competitions are so important. It gives guys that bit of success and then they want to taste success again, so they’ll commit to the clubs.
“It has a ripple effect because the club retains more players and then when they get stronger that success will result in more players willing to go the long way. It’s just to prevent clubs from losing players and keeping them and building on that.”
Beara’s Munster final victory over Salesian College Pallaskenry and subsequent All Ireland semi-final win over Ballybay Community College are the latest evidence of a revival in the west – half the team of the he school were part of the Beara Divisional team that won last year’s Cork Premier 1 U18. Crown.
Castletownbere’s Fintan Fenner, who played for Cork seniors in the McGrath Cup earlier this year, has been a leading force for the school in the same way he was for the division last year . Dylan Crowley of Urhan, another member of that Divisional County Championship-winning side and great-nephew of former Cork Con footballer Paddy O’Sullivan, has been a regular on the scoresheet in their race for the decider of all of Ireland.
Just under half the population of 315 schools is made up of boys, painting the clearest possible picture of the small pool that Crowley and O’Connell draw from. “They are serious, very committed guys. Football is their life here. I’ve heard some of them say they could never make it to an All Ireland Final again. I hope they will seize the opportunity with both hands.