MOST of the local GAA talk has been centred on rumoured Covid-19 outbreaks and a possible lockdown bringing a halt to championships during the past week. Yet, in LGFA circles, West Cork has been attracting its fair share of newspaper and social media headlines but for the wrong reasons.
The focus should have been on the rural division basking in the glow of capturing its first-ever senior championship crown. Instead, it is West Cork’s future at senior level, or more to the point, exactly what type of team the division will be permitted to field in 2021, that has dominated the headlines.
Last Friday, The Echo outlined how Mourneabbey were forced to make an appeal to the (national) LGFA Committee to enter this year’s Munster championship. As with previous years, the assumption was that Mourneabbey would go on to defend their Munster trophy even if they ended up losing the county decider, as the West Cork division could not progress.
Instead, the reigning provincial champions were informed that they would not be permitted to chase a seventh consecutive title. When asked to nominate their representatives, so as to be able to draw up a provincial fixture-list, Munster informed the LGFA’s central body that West Cork, as a division, were not eligible to take part.
The LGFA’s central body immediately took action against the Cork (LGFA) county board for permitting West Cork to play in the senior championship, contrary to a national LGFA rule number 190.
Rule 190 states: ‘County Boards may allow players from three Junior clubs or one Junior and one Intermediate club to amalgamate to form a Senior team, without losing their Junior or Intermediate status. County Boards may allow two Junior clubs to amalgamate to form an Intermediate team without losing their Junior status.’
In their findings, the LGFA said: ‘As the Cork County Board breached Rule 190 of the Official Guide in the organisation of the Cork Senior Championship a penalty of €1,000 was imposed on the board by the committee under Rule 261. Cork County Board must abide by the rules of the Official Guide in organising future competitions. In light of the above, Mourneabbey will progress to the Munster Senior Club Championship.’
It’s important to state that Mourneabbey, or West Cork for that matter, did nothing wrong in any of this and Mourneabbey boss Shane Roynane graciously made a point of saying his side were beaten by the better team on the day of the county final.
But for West Cork, the ramifications of the past week could be far reaching.
Basically, the Cork LGFA county board has been and remains free to run their county championships as they see fit. The national LGFA body is aware of this and has never felt the need to intervene until now.
Nobody is hiding or has ever hidden from the fact that West Cork’s current squad is made up of players drawn from numerous clubs, which include many Cork inter-county players. Nor is anyone shying away from the national LGFA Rule 190 that states that players from three junior clubs or one junior and one intermediate club can amalgamate to form a senior (divisional) team.
But it is important to note that the Cork LGFA board, whilst fully aware of this rule, has only ever permitted West Cork to enter the senior county championship provided there was complete agreement with all the other competing clubs. That is the way it has been since the division’s inception.
It wasn’t until last year, when a failed attempt to have West Cork removed from the senior championship, that murmurings of apparent discontent with the division’s presence finally bubbled to the surface. Thankfully, West Cork’s passionate response to that attempted exclusion ensured they would not be omitted.
And, even after all that, every club entered the 2020 senior championship in good faith and on the understanding that West Cork would pick players, as they had done in previous championships, from all the eligible clubs in the rural division.
So, what does the past week mean for the newly crowned senior champions and the future of ladies football in the region?
If the Cork county board are forced to adopt the national LGFA ruling, then it looks like West Cork may be forced to field a much-weakened line-up from next year and beyond. That would be a terrible shame for an area of the country that has played such a pivotal role in Cork’s All-Ireland senior football successes in recent years. Denying a large portion of the current Rebel’s senior inter-county set-up the chance to play regular senior club football would be a retrograde step.
It is also worth noting that no other team has come close to challenging Mourneabbey’s dominance of the Cork club scene over the past four or five years apart from West Cork. The county’s senior ladies football championship has benefitted hugely from their rivalry and as a result, generated additional radio, written and online media attention at both local and national level.
Éire Óg and St Val’s are in transition so a senior county championship without at least one serious challenger to Mourneabbey would be a hard sell to supporters and sponsors over the next couple of years.
A year in which Clonakilty, Castlehaven and Valley Rovers claimed county titles tells you all you need to know about the quality of footballers being produced within the region.
A thriving underage scene with increased numbers playing ladies football at U10 to minor level means few areas of the county are in better shape when it comes to cultivating emerging LGFA talent. It is also worth noting the West Cork underage development programme (sadly missing this year due to Covid) has been a massive hit during the summer months.
Preventing future stars from remote areas, unable to field a senior team, the chance to play senior club championship football could have denied West Cork captain Áine Terry O’Sullivan the opportunity to bring the John Hurley Cup back to her native Allihies.
West Cork ladies football has exploded in interest on the back of Cork’s All-Ireland successes. A generation of young girls deserve the chance to play at senior club level and dream, just like Áine Terry, to one day become champions.
Let’s hope common sense and cool heads prevail in the coming weeks when a decision that will affect hundreds of the region’s players is made.
West Cork had to fight long and hard before being recognised by Croke Park and finally taking the field in the Cork LGFA senior football championship. A county championship with a weakened divisional line-up would be a backward step at a time ladies football has never been more popular.