COMMENT - Sugrue's plan cuts through years of Laois GAA clubs inactivity

COMMENT - Sugrue's plan cuts through years of Laois GAA clubs inactivity

Laois manager John Sugrue.

As announcements go, it was fairly understated. The programme for a Laois GAA championship weekend was a novel place for John Sugrue to share his idea, but the message was no less important.

In less than a year in the job, Sugrue has managed to do what Laois GAA, collectively, couldn't in the last ten. The problems in club football have been growing steadily over that period, but attempts to alleviate them have been few and far between.

There was the attempt to reduce numbers in the SFC which famously fell apart, due to the relegation structures being against the rules of the association.

Niall Handy has repeatedly implored clubs, in his secretary's report to Convention, to consider their own futures, and floated the prospect of football championship reform, but the clubs have ignored the prompting.

With one considered idea, John Sugrue has bypassed all that stagnation and come up with a competition which satisfies his own need to view players, and could yet plant the seed of a revamp of the club football structures.

When you look at the underage setup in Laois, you see how unfeasible the adult structures are in the long-term. A lot of clubs don't compete on their own at underage level, and the numbers playing in the 'A' grade are low.

In the U-13 'A' Championship, there are 10 teams. The U-15 'A' Championship has 6 teams. The U-17 'A' Championship has 9 teams.

Meanwhile, the Laois senior football championship has 16 teams.

Portarlington, Portlaoise, St Joseph's and Ballyroan Abbey are the only clubs who compete in 'A' competitions, on their own, across the above three age grades.

Juvenile setups like Stradbally Parish Gaels, Killeshin-Crettyard, St Paul's, Na Fianna Óg and Sarsfields mean that there are senior clubs who have young players that won't play a championship game for their 'home' club until they are adults.

That system can allow a club to maintain themselves, but it's difficult to advance, or thrive.

By the same token, it's not easy for any club to listen to an outsider tell them they are in a world of trouble, or that their long-term prospects are not good. Clubs naturally want to hope for the best, they don't want to consider a future where they are no longer in a position to offer games and an identity to their local community.

That's why an adult competition along these lines has long been mooted in the county. Portlaoise are streaking away from the competition at the moment, and show no signs of taking a backwards step. A few clubs are trying to keep pace, but the gap is huge.

This tournament, which is essentially a trial system for players who want to play for the county, could be the first step towards a shift in the landscape of Laois club football.

Few would argue change is welcome, but to keep doing what we are doing is akin to sitting on the deck of the titanic and telling ourselves we'll be fine, the iceberg isn't that big.

The finish of the club championships used to be followed by a fallow period in Laois GAA. Now, it just got a lot more interesting.

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