'We are not the Bundesliga': Schoolboy leagues scrap seasons

'We are not the Bundesliga': Schoolboy leagues scrap seasons
Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Schoolboy players will not complete their season, while the Kennedy Cup and Gaynor Cup for 2020 have been cancelled due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

The FAI on Friday issued a roadmap to restart football fixtures, commencing with four League of Ireland teams in late July and the others following in August.

Within 24 hours, this timeline was discussed by the Schoolboys Football Association of Ireland (SFAI), leading leagues to inform their members of their plans on Monday.

The three largest leagues in the country, the Dublin and District Schoolboys’ League (DDSL), North Dublin Schoolboys/Girls League (NDSL), and Cork Schoolboys League, have scrapped their campaigns.

As they opted to revert to a school season last year (September to May), in defiance to the FAI’s summer football plans, those leagues had progressed through most of their season until the pandemic caused a sudden disruption in mid-March. They will restart in early September, with a fresh season.

DDSL Chairman Paddy Dempsey told clubs in a circular: “The tremendous and thankless work being done by Dr Alan Byrne (FAI) and his team is to be acknowledged. It should be noted that the DDSL is not the Bundesliga, where private clinics are on standby twice a week to test players, or is it akin to the professional arm of the FAI where the players will be cocooned, tested, and play behind closed doors. (It should be noted we wish the LOI mini-tournament every success).

No, we are the Dublin & District Schoolboys/Girls League whose mantra is to try and ensure players, referees, fixture secretaries, administrators, managers, coaches, colleagues, neighbours, the man and his dog enjoy the game to the best of everyone’s ability in a reasonably safe and comfortable environment.

“Our stage is in the main council and public parks across the length and breadth of Dublin, into Wicklow, Meath, Kildare, and as far afield as our colleagues in Athlone and Drogheda.

“We must be realistic, it is really hard to see how, as long as social distancing remains in place, we can resume.

“However, we must be both optimistic and pragmatic. Be assured that the health, care, and welfare of players and volunteer constituents are always paramount and our priority.

“With that in mind, the League has decided that the league season of 2019/2020 will cease from today (Monday 18 May).” 

On the new season, he added: “The return-to-training on July 20 is under strict protocols.

“They will be finalised by the HSE/FAI medical teams and will be issued to all our clubs.

“It will possibly be training in very small groups, maybe only 5, no contact, distancing rules apply, however guidelines with these details will be issued to everyone before that date. This will not be standard training as we once knew it.

“Normal full squad training cannot resume until August 10, and our tentative return date to commence the new 2020/2021 season is the weekend of September 12 for all age groups under our jurisdiction. All dates are subject to direction from HSE and NPHET.” 

NDSL and MGL Metropolitan Girls League Secretary Tony Gains insisted the planned return to school in September was critical to their decision. He said: “There appeared to be some ambiguities in the FAI’s statement on Friday but and I can now clarify that the NDSL season is now null and void and a new season will commence the weekend September 5 in line with the children returning to school.

“We are extremely disappointed the Kennedy Cup and Gaynor Cup have been cancelled and we feel very disappointed for the players who have trained and worked hard over the past two years to compete in this competition.

“Dates re-registration and team formation will be advised in due course and we will naturally be subject to HSE and NPHET guidelines.” 

The SFAI Kennedy Cup, a week-long festival of football featuring the best of U14 talent representing the 31 leagues in Ireland, will prove a major absence from the football calendar.

The Covid-19 pandemic had meant the original June date was a non-runner but no alternative date later in the year at UL can be accommodated.

This will be first time since the Kennedy Cup was established in 1976 that it won’t go ahead. Since then, a galaxy of stars have figured at the inter-league tournament, including Roy Keane, David Meyler, Stephen Ireland, along with current Ireland squad members Robbie Brady, Aaron Connolly, and Troy Parrott.

Also mothballed due to the coronavirus outbreak is the yearly Gaynor Cup, the girls equivalent of the Kennedy Cup. That event, too, has proven to be the traditional starting point for top talent progressing onto the international circuit.

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