The format for Feile-na-nGael, the hugely successful festival of under-14 Gaelic games has been revamped, but Kilkenny are far from happy.
The winners of the Division I Feile hurling competition in Kilkenny - the Paddy Grace tournament - will not be going to the national Feile finals in Ulster. Instead, they will play in a subsidiary regional competition.
However, the winners of a B competition which will be contested by clubs ranked outside the top dozen or so will carry the Kilkenny flag at national Feile, and there is a possibility this outfit could be joined by a second club chosen by the national Feile body.
“We have no say in the teams picked to go to Feile,” County Board chairman, Ned Quinn, told club delegates at a recent meeting. “We are being told what we have to do.”
A report from the Feile Review Group ratified by Central Council has far reaching consequences for the make-up of the national finals over the next two years, when they will be staged in Ulster. After that, the format could revert to the old style, Kilkenny clubs were told.
“All the strong counties were against the new format,” Bord-na-nOg chairman, Willie Dempsey reported from a meeting in Portlaois earlier this month at which the new structures were outlined to counties. “They didn’t want to know about our concerns. We were told it was an information night, not a rule changing night.”
The Feile-na-nGael 2014 national finals will be played at venues all over Ulster on the weekend of June 20/22. So far there are 56 host boys teams.
Separate from the national finals there will be a subsidiary series of regional tournaments for the Division I ranked counties like Kilkenny. These tournaments will involve 12 teams and will be played on Saturday, June 28.
Counties have been advised to organise internal competitions at A, B, C level, and so on. However, the Division I ranked Feile counties - Kilkenny, Cork, Clare, Dublin, Galway, Limerick, Tipperary, Waterford and Wexford - have been told that the winners of their B competition will be the ones going to Ulster.
The four top finishers (winners, runners-up and the two losing semi-finalists) in the internal A competition will be diverted into the regional events. These will be held in Leinster (Kilkenny and Portlaois), Connacht (Galway) and Munster (Thurles and Waterford). The Noresiders have been told their teams will be playing in Thurles.
Kilkenny officials made direct contact with GAA President, Liam O’Neill to voice their concerns and asked to have the Feile format left as it was, but their appeals fell on deaf ears.
Kilkenny teams have enjoyed enormous success at Feile, with winners in all six divisions. Scores of players who featured on winning teams went on to have distinguished careers at senior All-Ireland level. The list of high achievers includes former Hurler of the Year, Michael Fennelly, Jackie Tyrrell, Tommy Walsh and James ‘Cha’ Fitzpatrick.
The Division I title for the Christy Ring Cup was brought to the county 11 times. St Patrick’s (the De La Salle school) were the first winners in 1981 and O’Loughlin Gaels were the last in 2011.
The county has also enjoyed success at Division 2 level (Mooncoin 1978), Division 3 on three occasions; Division 4 on three occasions; Division 5 once by Conahy Shamrocks 2007 and Division 6 once by Windgap 2007.
Counties were told to grade their teams in the local Feile competitions. Kilkenny weren’t sure how they would grade their clubs (example, 1 to 40) but the clubs assigned to Division I would definitely not be going to the national finals. However, all clubs were expected to take part in the county competitions.
Clubs were told that if they were picked to go to the finals in Ulster, they would be expected to go.
“If the club ranked No. 39 decides not to go, where does that leave Kilkenny,” Ned Quinn wondered.
When informed that games would be played all over the six counties which would involved a lot of travelling, Luke Roche (O’Loughlin Gaels) wondered who would help participating clubs with finance for what would appear to be a costly venture.
“Don’t look at me,” Ned Quinn smiled.