Kerry junior football manager Jimmy Keane cannot fathom why so many counties do not bother fielding a junior team, believing the competition to be of even greater value since the U21 grade was lowered to U20.
Cork and Kerry will this evening contest the Munster JFC final at Páirc Uí Rinn (7pm), in what will be both counties’ first competitive game of the summer given Clare, Limerick, Tipperary, and Waterford no longer enter a team in the provincial junior championship.
2016 was the last occasion all six counties were involved in the Munster junior championship. Clare and Tipperary pulled the plug after that, with Limerick and Waterford opting out ahead of the 2018 edition. This lack of interest is replicated around the country, with only six counties — Carlow, Kildare, Longford, Louth, Meath, and Wicklow — participating in this season’s Leinster JFC, while there is no Ulster competition.
Kerry are chasing a fifth consecutive All-Ireland JFC crown this summer, with manager Jimmy Keane having overseen their last two triumphs. He points to current Kerry seniors Tadhg Morley, Jason Foley, Killian Spillane, and Tomás Ó Sé, as well as Roscommon’s Conor Cox, all of whom won All-Ireland junior medals in the green and gold, to highlight the benefit of the junior grade in enabling players to bridge the gap to senior level.
Of course, there are plenty other examples. Mayo’s Brian Reape and Darren Coen, two players who’ve seen game-time under James Horan this year, were part of the Mayo junior side which lost out to the Kingdom in the 2016 All-Ireland final.
“I am really surprised that more counties do not put out a junior team. It has been a bit disheartening the last few years in Munster with just ourselves and Cork entering. The reason behind it, I can never figure out,” said Keane.
The change from U21 to U20 has seen the junior competition, stressed Keane, become of greater importance to counties given the unlikelihood of all but the most talented few making the jump directly from U20 to senior level.
“The step from U20 to senior is a really big step, a really big transition for a young player to try and make. There should be a stepping stone for players and that is why we in Kerry use the junior competition as a bridge between U20 and senior.
“When we sit down to pick a junior panel at the beginning of the year, we straight away look at players who were U20 in 2018 but are overage for that grade this year. We try to include as many of them as possible because we feel we should be helping them towards the senior grade.”
Centre-back Mike Breen is the sole member of last year’s U20 side to be included in this evening’s team to face Cork. That figure would have been four but for injuries to Micheál Reidy, Daniel O’Brien, and Bryan Sweeney. Along with Breen, there are four other players on the starting team — Michael Foley, John Mark Foley, Brandon Barrett, and Stephen O’Sullivan — who pocketed an All-Ireland minor medal in recent years.
C Kelly (Éire Óg); P Clancy (Fermoy), P Murphy (Bandon), G McCarthy (St Vincent’s); K Cremin (Boherbue), J Mullins (Éire Óg), G O’Callaghan (Gabriel Rangers); BT O’Sullivan (Garnish), P Walsh (Kanturk); F O’Connor (Knocknagree), A O’Connor (Knocknagree), S Aherne (Fermoy); G Murphy (Castletownbere), S Hickey (Rockchapel), E O’Shea (Éire Óg).
Subs: P Doyle (Knocknagree), E O’Callaghan (Rockchapel), S Howard (Dromtariffe), L Wall (Kilmurry), T Corkery (Cill na Martra), ST O’Sullivan (Garnish), G Kelleher (St Vincent’s), M Desmond (Cill na Martra), E Goggin (Gabriel Rangers).
E O’Brien (Churchill); C Ó Murchú (An Ghaeltacht), P O’Connor (Legion), PJ O’Sullivan (Dromid Pearses); J Brosnan (Glenbeigh/Glencar), M Breen (Beaufort), M Foley (Ballydonoghue); JM Foley (Kilgarvan), N Breen (Beaufort); P O’Connor (Cordal), C Earley (Dromid Pearses), B Barrett (Ardfert); S O’Sullivan (Templenoe), D Daly (St Mary’s Caherciveen), B O’Dwyer (Waterville).
Subs: P O’Sullivan (Skellig Rangers), D Brosnan (Gneeveguilla), A Finn (Annascaul), P Kearney (John Mitchels), J Spillane (Templenoe), J Crean (Annascaul), T Lynch (Castleisland Desmonds), G O’Sullivan (Tarbert), C Teahan (Glenbeigh/Glencar).
Cork’s 1989 All-Ireland winning senior football team will be honoured at the GPA Football Legends Lunch on the eve of the All-Ireland Football final. The victorious team will be celebrated at a lunch on Saturday, August 31 in Croke Park.