'We don't put cattle out in winter but we're expecting our best young footballers to play in terrible conditions'

'We don't put cattle out in winter but we're expecting our best young footballers to play in terrible conditions'
Kerry's Dylan Casey and Fionn Herlihy of Cork in action in the U20 Munster final. Picture: INPHO/Bryan Keane

IN KEEPING with what’s coming next week at Cheltenham it was apt that Cork U20 football manager, Keith Ricken, would draw an analogy between the sport of kings and his own passion.

The decision to condense the U20 championship into a few weeks at this time of the year from last year’s summer-fest attracted ire up and down the country.

“We don’t put cattle out in the bloody winter and yet we’re bringing these young lads and trying to develop them.

“The whole purpose of the U20s is to produce senior footballers in a few years and they will be playing in the summer.

“So why are we playing in the winter? It’s a bit like training race horses in the mud to race on the flat in the summer,” he said after Kerry’s 0-17 to 1-9 mid-week Munster final triumph in Tralee.

Cork manager Keith Ricken. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Cork manager Keith Ricken. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

And before you think Ricken went on a rant just because Cork handed over their Munster and All-Ireland crowns, it wasn’t, not even by any stretch of the imagination.

Of course, he bemoaned Cork’s inability to convert chances in a Kerry dominated second-half as well as the team losing its shape among other issues, but he was looking at the bigger picture and rightly so.

“This is not how we should be applying our championships. It’s all too truncated. Summer is a time for developing footballers.

“I welcome the proposed change back to summer next season, but it wasn’t the difference to Cork winning or losing.

“In terms of my job, it can be frustrating not to see lads getting the opportunity.

“Take those born in 2000, they didn’t get the opportunities like last year’s group and won’t get the opportunities like next year’s.

“And that’s not taking away from Kerry’s performance because, like every other county, they have issues, too.

“It’s great to start in March or April and take it through the summer.

“It’s a different type of football and calls for a different type of player, too.

“I thought we were a bit short in physique in a number of positions and that’s something we will look at, too.”

For those with life-long memories of the great achievements of 2019, the bitter experience of Wednesday night at Austin Stack Park is just as important in their development as Ricken outlined.

“It’s about character building and that’s both sides, winning, like last year, and losing.

“That’s what we are focussing on and one of the questions they will ask themselves ‘how am I going to respond to this’?

“Character is like oxygen in the room, it’s there all the time. We will all reflect on what we did and take our own learnings from it.

“Taking our chances and losing our shape are two things we will work on.

“We also have a lot of young lads, who are still growing and developing.

“It’s a big step from last year’s minor team, a huge gap really. We have guys in fifth year in school and second year in college.

“That’s a big, big gap. They wouldn’t normally hang around together, so you’re trying to mould a group physically, emotionally, spiritually, the whole lot and it takes time.

“We’re very big on reflective practice, which is very important in development. For me that’s the most important part of it, that the lads are learning from it.

“They will get a chance to look back on the match and reflect on the good stuff and the bad stuff.

“We’re trying to give them hands-on experience, ownership. We want to develop players, who when they cross the line are not relying on anybody else, only themselves and those around them.

“That’s a maturity thing and it’s going to take time. It’s not going to happen over night.”

Brian Hayes of Cork gets to the ball ahead of Michael O'Gara of Kerry. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Brian Hayes of Cork gets to the ball ahead of Michael O'Gara of Kerry. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Kerry meet either Galway or Roscommon in the All-Ireland semi-final at Croke Park on St Patrick’s Day. The Connacht final is on in Tuam this afternoon.

Last night Dublin and Laois contest the Leinster decider in Carlow while the Ulster final is between Donegal and Tyrone in Clones also today.

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