A NUMBER of schoolboys clubs from all over Ireland have met to discuss concerns about the FAI’s U13 League of Ireland, with the second season due to commence in late March.
There are currently 17 clubs from the Cork Schoolboys League supporting the move to challenge the U13 League. Midleton, Blarney United, Mallow United, Castleview, College Corinthians, Douglas Hall, Leeside, Springfield Ramblers, Ballincollig, Everton, Lakewood, Leeds, Ringmahon Rangers, Mayfield United, Fermoy, Riverstown, and Avondale United have all got behind the move with over 80 clubs nationally hoping for changes from the FAI.
Most clubs accepted the potential benefits of the U15 League of Ireland structure, but are worried about taking talented youngsters from their clubs to move on to an elite level before many of them turn 13, especially as there is no U14 tier. That means half of the U13 squad selected will be cut when the U15 group is assembled the following season.
Vincent Butler is among those challenging the U13 League and the Belvedere representative is hopeful of meeting newly appointed FAI president Gerry McAnaney and interim chief executive Niall Quinn for further discussions in the near future.
Last year, the 24 teams involved in the National League were allowed sign up to 20 players each and as a result the league consisted of between 450 and 480 players.
The FAI’s Player Pathway plan, as announced when the 2019 League commenced, was designed ‘to give every person entering the game the chance to go as far as they possibly can within the sport…and to put player needs at the heart of their programmes’.
Identifying players for U13 level means that those who have yet to develop or are born late in the calendar year are at a serious disadvantage, argue the club representatives.
When the 2020 U13 League finishes, another 480 players will be competing with the 2006 players for the U15 League in 2021.
This is an issue Corinthian Boys representative Barry McGrath referred to recently.
“Both players and parents alike are feeling the pressure in relation to the U13 National League. In my experience, parents are finding it difficult to deny their child’s involvement in the National League when they know that it may not be in their best interest.
“There is a lot of pressure on the players and at such a young age, it is very difficult to choose between joining the U13 National League or staying with their peers at their own club and challenging for local honours and representing the Cork Schoolboys League team.”
On Leeside, losing two or three strong players going to Cork City has a devastating impact on teams’ ability to do well in the CSL.
Club representatives have pointed towards the recent emergence of young Irish players in England, such as Aaron Connolly, Troy Parrott, Mark Travers, Adam Idah, Lee O’Connor, Yassine En Neyah, Dara O’Shea, Conor Masterson, Caoimhín Kelleher, Gavin Kilkenny, Jason Molumby, Nathan Collins, Michael Obafemi, and Jason Knight. All have all come through schoolboys clubs, spending little or no time with League of Ireland underage set-ups.
The request being put to the FAI is that the U13 League be discontinued with immediate effect and that an alternative structure be put in place. That would allow for non-competitive football up to the age of U13 where players would then compete in a competitive 11 a-side setting and finally that the first opportunity for players to represent League of Ireland teams would come in the U15 age group.
Chairman of the Cork Schoolboys League Peter Connolly said: “I think it is an awful lot of pressure to put on players at such a young age and as chairman of the Cork Schoolboys League, I would certainly be against the National Leagues.
“Roy Keane highlighted the Kennedy Cup in the past as the competition whereby he pitted himself against the best players in Ireland and it’s the likes of such a prestigious tournament as this is what the players could potentially be missing out on.”
The Kennedy Cup competition features teams comprised of the best U14 players in each league, but with the League of Ireland hoovering up the youngsters from U13 that will diminish the standard.