IDEAS Westport Utd’s Coach Education Officer Joe Kelly feels that a solution should be found to allow ‘even age’ teams play this season. Pic: Conor McKeown
ONE of Mayo’s leading underage coaches has said that ‘the two most important grades in underage football’ are missing out as a result of the decision not to play even underage grades this season.
The Mayo News reported last week that the decision by the Mayo Youths league not to play U-12, U-14, U-16 and U-18 grades this season had been met with criticism in some quarters.
Only uneven age grades (U-13, U-15 and U-17) will run this season due to the loss of playing time caused by the Covid-19 shutdown.
Speaking to The Mayo News last night (Monday), Westport United Under-17 manager Joe Kelly said: “I don’t see [lack of time during the week] as the reason why they shouldn’t be running. The Mayo schoolboys league won’t kick off again until the end of March 2021, so there’s ample time to play out the calendar, so I don’t really accept that as an argument.
“I think there needs to be a bit more thought put into running the even ages along with it. The biggest losers in this are the even ages.”
He continued: “All of a sudden the 18-year-olds have fallen off a cliff and there’s no soccer for them. They’re going to have to play other sports or go straight into senior soccer. Most of them are probably not strong enough physically to go into senior soccer.
“There’s an interim period there where you have to beef up and get au fait with Junior soccer, unless you’re an exceptional player and exceptionally strong. We could lose those players to other sports.”
Kelly, who also serves as Westport United’s Coach Education Officer, also feels that the loss of the Under-12 grade will hamper the development of youngsters who are still learning the skills of the game.
He said: “It’s so important to learn the game at 9-a-side. If they get no football this year then they’ll be going straight into 11-a-side next year.”
Mayo Youths league secretary Dave Breen told The Mayo News last week that there wasn’t enough time during the week to play even age grades, especially as they wanted to accommodate girls football, which runs with U-13, U-15 and U-17 age groups.
“You can’t magic up days of the week. It’s an impossible situation,” said Breen.
However, Joe Kelly believes that it would be possible to run both even and odd age grades for boys and girls if the season was extended by a few months.
“The girls’ calendar could still be fitted in,” he said. “I don’t know why there is a closing date put on [the season] when there’s going to be four or five months between the start of next season and the end of this season.
“I think there’s ample time to fit in all the grades if we extend the season until the end of January, even if it meant reducing the number of games. It can be one round of games in a league instead of home and away. I can’t see how it wouldn’t work if it was looked at.”
While he acknowledged that the year has ‘been tough’ for fixtures organisers, he insisted that there was still ample time to accommodate some competitive action for every age grade.
“I still think there’s a big period of time where we could fit everyone in,” said Kelly.
“Most clubs have all day Saturday and Sunday morning. We have August and September, where there’s plenty of light on Saturday and Sunday evening. I think that’s workable. I’m not a fixtures secretary but there’s definitely solutions. The GAA have found a solution to it.
“You might have to reduced the amount of games each groups gets to play, but more importantly each group gets to play.”
The Mayo Football League released new guidelines last week saying that clubs may enter a maximum of four underage teams per grade, providing they have two playing pitches.
Commenting on this development, Kelly said: “That’s very helpful because the way it was, it was looking that we’d have to leave a couple of teams out at each age.”