ONE of the West Cork Schoolboys’ League’s most talented squads will not compete at the SFAI Kennedy Cup.
Skibbereen AFC coach, Shane Hurley, oversaw 2019 Blackpool Cup and 2020 SFAI Munster Inter-League Shield success with a special group of players.
Together since they first entered the WCSL’s Emerging Talent Programme, at the age of 11, Hurley’s young players enjoyed a marvellous run of results at the U11-to-U14 age grades during a four-year period.
Spending a week at the University of Limerick and competing at the SFAI’s most prestigious football tournament, the Kennedy Cup was meant to be Hurley’s squad’s crowning moment.
Alas, Covid-19 intervened and this year’s tournament had to be cancelled.
Hopes were high of the Kennedy Cup being run off at a later date. Yet, the ongoing pandemic and logistical issues around housing 32 squads in the one complex means there will be no 2020 edition.
“We started hearing rumours, about the tournament possibly being postponed, not long after the first week of lockdown, earlier in the year,” Hurley told the Echo.
“Then, there were all sorts of rumours floating around that the Kennedy Cup would be pushed back to July, mid-August, or possibly the mid-term. We were starting to hear everything and anything.
“I remember sending a video message to the parents on the squad’s WhatsApp group, some time in early August, once we got confirmation that it wouldn’t be going ahead in 2020,” Hurley said
Fortunately, West Cork finished off the concluding rounds of the newly introduced Munster U14 Inter-League Shield this year. A Munster Shield final between West Cork and Kerry produced a terrific game, six goals and a deserved victory for the visitors, in Killarney, last August.
Prince Iyallah handed West Cork an early lead, before Josh Bowler equalised for the hosts. Timothy Cullinane restored Shane Hurley’s side’s lead, but, once again, Kerry hit back, with Callum Cronin’s equaliser sending the final to extra-time. A goalless first period was followed by a much more exciting second, as an own goal and another Cullinane effort earned the visiting team a 4-2 victory.
Adding a Munster U14 Shield to the Blackpool Cup trophy that was won in England a year earlier underlined this young squad’s reputation as one of the best to emerge from the region.
“Looking back, the fact we were able to salvage something from this past season, getting to a final and winning another trophy, means so much more because of Covid,” Hurley said.
“I don’t think you can begin to quantify what missing out on the experience of competing at a Kennedy Cup means to this group of players, though,” Hurley said.
It is the same for all the other squads across the country. “The Kennedy Cup still means so much to players, their families, and supporters of schoolboys’ soccer. There is a huge amount of people involved in previous Kennedy Cups that still travel to Limerick every year and follow West Cork’s build-up and results in the newspapers,” Hurley said.
“The Kennedy Cup remains a huge competition and the fact this group of West Cork players won’t have an opportunity to show what they are capable of on such a big stage is absolutely heart-wrenching.
“For me, as the lads’ coach, it is difficult to put into words the disappointment they feel at missing out on such an important milestone in their playing careers. No matter what part of the country you are from, competing against the best U14 players for a week at the University of Limerick is something hugely significant in a young boy’s life.
“At the Kennedy Cup, you get scouted by League of Ireland, cross-channel, and international coaches. You get the opportunity to take part in a huge showpiece that could be the doorway to moving to a bigger club or a League of Ireland Academy set-up,” Hurley said.
“There is also the prospect of a professional English club seeing you and marking you down as someone to possibly attend trials ‘across the water’. It is such a wonderful tournament.
“I know the country’s League of Ireland academy structures are growing at a phenomenal rate and wonderful work is being done in those clubs. I still believe that the SFAI Kennedy Cup should have a place in the Irish underage soccer calendar. I believe U13 and U14 players should still experience a week in Limerick and competing in such a massive tournament,” Hurley said.
“This particular group of West Cork players has missed out on all of that. That is tough to take, but these lads shouldn’t forget what they have achieved in our ETP and at Inter-League level.
“It is also important to note that many of the lads will go on to bigger and better things, despite not playing at the (2020) Kennedy Cup.”
2019 SuperValu West Cork Schoolboys U13 Inter-League Blackpool Cup squad: Billy Curtin (Castlelack), Caolan O’Driscoll (Dunmanway Town, captain), Chris Cronin (Bantry Bay Rovers), Cillian Twohig (Lyre Rovers), Philip Harrington (Bantry Bay Rovers), Charlie McShane (Ardfield), Timmy Cullinane (Lyre Rovers), Prince Iyallah (Clonakilty AFC), Luke Shorten (Drinagh Rangers), Eli Reynolds (Bantry Bay Rovers), Eoin O’Brien (Bunratty United), Brian Horgan (Togher Celtic), Eoin Hurley (Drinagh Rangers), Tom Browne (Kilmichael Rovers), Theo Morgan (Bantry Bay Rovers), Dara Sheedy (Bantry Bay Rovers), Tom O’Connor (Bantry Bay Rovers), Jack O’Donovan (Clonakilty AFC).