West Cork soccer teams must bide their team before a return to proper training

West Cork soccer teams must bide their team before a return to proper training

The Skibbereen AFC U14 squad that finished runners-up in this year's SuperValu West Cork Schoolboys League U14 Cup competition.

SUPERVALU West Cork Schoolboys League clubs can continue training within HSE protocols but will have to wait a little longer for a return to competitive action.

The news, when it arrived, was not unexpected. Last week’s FAI statement issued via its official website confirmed that ‘All adult amateur teams can enjoy a return to training as from today subject to strict Government guidelines and FAI Safer Return to Training Protocol’.

‘For adult amateur and underage teams, outdoor non-contact training is permissible in pods of 15 with a minimum of one coach present. Two coaches must be present for all underage teams’.

The West Cork Schoolboys League is in the same boat as its contemporaries around the country. No competitive, friendly or training matches are permitted under the current HSE and Government guidelines.

So, despite leaving Level 5 restrictions, WCSL clubs are permitted to train in accordance with current protocols but there will be no return to league, cup or shield action anytime soon.

That will come as a huge disappointment to West Cork League junior and schoolboys players who were eager to return to the pitch sometime before Christmas. Alas, the most recent FAI statement reinforced the governing bodies view that it is not safe to return to full-contact training or matches until the HSE and Government give the go-ahead.

“I’m afraid the status quo remains following last week’s FAI statement,” WCSL chairperson Declan Deasy told the Echo.

“The statement reaffirms the FAI’s viewpoint. Anecdotally, there was a lot of talk out there that sports might be going back to playing matches under a different level. To me, that was essentially a non-runner.

“Clubs can train away under the current guidelines but it has to be non-contact. The bottom line is that there cannot be any contact training drills or games within those training sessions.

“I know myself from being involved with Drinagh Rangers that, as much as we would like to go back playing games, we cannot until it is absolutely safe to do so. At the end of the day, the protocols seem to be working as we (Ireland) now have one of the lowest rates of Covid in Europe.

“Jumping back in too soon would be a backward step. Long-term, not playing any games over the next few weeks could be what’s best for clubs and their players heading into 2021. Vaccines are on the way but I think the reality is that we will be living with Covid with things like social distancing and face masks necessary for another while yet.” 

Having successfully completed their SuperValu Cup competitions, the West Cork Schoolboys League was on the verge of deciding who would qualify for their U12, U13, U14, U15 and U16 league play-offs when a second lockdown had to be introduced.

The Lyre Rovers U13 squad that defeated Bantry Bay Rovers to win the 2020 SuperValu West Cork Schoolboys League U13 Cup final earlier this year.
The Lyre Rovers U13 squad that defeated Bantry Bay Rovers to win the 2020 SuperValu West Cork Schoolboys League U13 Cup final earlier this year.

Only a handful of group fixtures remained before places in the knockout stages of each of the WCSL’s leagues would have been decided. It is not clear whether West Cork will be able to finish out their current campaign or start afresh in 2021.

“Our league competitions were being run off very well and it would have been brilliant to finish them. There was nothing anyone could do once another round of Covid restrictions had to be introduced,” Deasy said.

“In fairness to all our clubs, they were engaging with one another and doing their best to make sure all their scheduled fixtures were completed before Covid hit. We were getting to the knockout stages of our respective league competitions and only a game or two from beginning what would have been a terrific set of play-offs.

“Things were on target and we were set to have everything finished by the end of November so it was disappointing to say the least when everything ground to a halt.

“Depending on what happens in the New Year, we may have the option of finishing off our 2020 leagues or decide to draw a line under them and move straight into a new season. It will be up to the clubs to decide that and we, the WCSL Committee, will present the different scenarios to them when the time comes.” 

Time is on the West Cork Schoolboys League committee’s side since their clubs voted to move to a new March to November season. Everything depends on what the country’s Covid situation will be in the New Year but Declan Deasy agrees the WCSL’s new calendar offers breathing space between now and March 2021.

“We haven’t really been able to bed in our new March to November calendar season because of the pandemic,” admitted the WCSL chairperson.

“We have yet to get it all up and running in a proper fashion. Now, due to the current circumstances, there is a window of opportunity to possibly play off our remaining games in the spring before the new (2021) season kicks in.

“There are encouraging signs however as the number of teams and players at our younger age-grades continue to increase. Like all sports, we are experiencing a drop-off when it comes to U15 and U16. 

"I would hope that, if we could get one ‘normal season’ completed and games were played as scheduled, it would encourage people to keep playing at the older age-groups.” 

For now, all SuperValu West Cork Schoolboys League clubs can do is continue their non-contact training and hope the New Year heralds a return to competitive, on-field action.

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