The changes to schools games flawed

Reports from central GAA committees are a common feature. Most reports tend to be non-contentious with maybe an occasional recommendation upsetting someone or other, writes Nickey Brennan.

Reports from central GAA committees are a common feature. Most reports tend to be non-contentious with maybe an occasional recommendation upsetting someone or other, writes Nickey Brennan.

A report just published titled ‘Examination of the position of the GAA in primary schools, with particular reference to the role of Cumann na mBunscol’ is going to generate much debate, particularly in Kilkenny.

Gaelic games are in a strong position in primary schools, principally through the efforts of numerous teachers (male and female) and the support of non-teachers in local clubs. The GAA estimates that it has access to around 90% of primary schools.

The background to this report is, I believe, to bring Cumann na mBunscol more directly under the GAA organisation. The primary schools body has operated with a significant degree of independence since it was established.

The committee doing the review consulted widely with teachers. That made sense but there is no mention that there was any consultation with club or county officials. If that were the case, it was a significant error.

Through its coaching and games section the GAA has produced much valuable material which is used in primary schools to coach Gaelic games. This material is helpful to teachers and club coaches when the County Games Officers are not in attendance.

From an overall governance perspective I do not have a difficulty seeing Cumann na mBunscol being brought directly under the control of Central Council. Such a move would have no impact on the on-going operations of Cumann na mBunscol. However, it may be seen as contentious by others.

The one issue that is already incurring the wrath of many, particularly in Kilkenny, is the proposal to adopt the ‘Go Games’ model for all Cumann na mBunscol competitions. I am at one with Kilkenny’s views on this. Such a move would herald the demise of one of Kilkenny’s legendary competitions, and the launching pad for every hurler in the county.

Kilkenny’s Cumann na mBunscol structures differ from most, if not all, in that the participating unit is the club except in Kilkenny City where five primary schools participate individually.

The competitions are well graded to ensure suitably balanced groups. In recent years recognition has been given to schools which have small numbers by allowing less than 15-a-side teams. This structure has ensured that the majority of clubs/schools have enjoyed success.

I am a strong supporter of ‘Go Games’ at club level. I see the benefits for all children between the ages of six and 12 at first hand.

Cumann na mBunscol competitions are unique. And we should not forget that the reality nowadays is that some rural schools/clubs have to play girls to make up a team.

Preparing for Cumann na mBunscol competition is an intrinsic part of a child’s education here. What better way to manage that competition than under the auspices of a teacher supported by club officials?

Teachers are well equipped with all the skill to understand the capability of students. Unlike clubs where some individuals can have ‘a win at all costs’ attitude, teachers know their role. I have no concerns that Cumann na mBunscol competitions in Kilkenny are over-competitive.

I am deeply concerned that adopting the ‘Go Games’ model in primary schools will have a detrimental impact on the promotion of Gaelic games. With some children now starting school aged five, they will be 13 by the time they are in sixth class.

By that stage their competitive instinct has developed and they are well capable of handling Cumann na mBunscol games under the auspices of their teacher. Kilkenny will vehemently oppose any change. The remaining proposals may not be too contentious, but that may change over the coming weeks.