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GAA’s Féile competition to move from U14 to U15 and be open to every club

THU, 12 NOV, 2020 – 15:03 EOGHAN CORMICAN

The age grade for county and national Féile competitions will move from U14 to U15 next year in a bid to improve player retention.

Not since the inaugural running of Féile na nGael in 1971 has the competition’s age-grade stood at U15, but that will again be the case next year for what will be Féile’s 50th anniversary.

The format of Féile competitions at national level will also undergo change from next year onward, with the long-standing tradition of one county or a cluster of neighbouring counties hosting the tournament having been done away with.

Instead, once county Féile competitions are completed, each juvenile club in the country will have the opportunity to play games against teams from outside their county across two Féile weekends which are likely to be organised, initially at least, on a regional basis.

“By going a year later to U15, Féile really can become a massive programme for us in terms of player retention,” GAA director of games development Shane Flanagan told the Irish Examiner.

“Drop off is an issue for the association, like every other sport. You could see a sort of growing narrative out there in terms of a somewhat elitist approach to Féile, which we didn’t want. There has been some over the top stuff going on with Féile, there’s probably been an over-emphasis on it in some places. Obviously that serious approach, maybe, was leading to some drop-off.

“The idea that if you can change the emphasis of it, the emphasis we have gone with here is you have your county Féile and then we have two weekends for hurling and two weekends for football for teams to enter in and play teams [from other counties] of a similar standard.

Ultimately, by pushing it up a year, which aligns with the new age grades policy, we probably have a better chance of holding onto more players as well which is really what we want to do here.

“We want to create an experience whereby as many players as possible stay in our games for as long as possible and certainly that’s why Féile was started in the beginning. It was started in the beginning to almost drive underage development and 50 years later, our emphasis is still with that, but equally, to drive retention within our game.

“Can we use this now as our kind of next step towards keeping as many players as possible from 16, 17, and 18-years of age and beyond?”

Explaining the tweaked format, Flanagan continued: “Once the county programme is complete, the door is open for any club in the county to participate in Féile [at national level]. That’s what we want. We will work on grading, finding venues, locations and regions to participate in. Of course, it will be a challenge logistically, but I don’t think it will be a barrier to what we are trying to achieve here.

“We have to listen to the voice of children. We did that as part of the player development review last year and the year before. We sat down with 16-year-olds and we listened to them. They said they wanted the opportunity to play outside their county more often.”

Flanagan said the proposal to move to U15 had been mooted pre-pandemic and was not in response to this year’s U14 players missing out on the chance to experience Féile.

“That’s the icing on the cake, that young fellas who would have missed out this year will have a chance next year. 

This has been an issue that has been on the agenda since the start of the current regime in terms of games development. It is not a reaction or response to what has happened this year.