The Kerry U20s, under the guidance of three-time All-Ireland winning senior manager O’Connor, begin their provincial campaign away to Limerick on Friday week but will be without the two outstanding teenage footballers — Clifford and O’Shea — in the county.
Under general rule, any player who is selected on a 26-man senior championship squad is ineligible to play in an U20 match in the same year.
O’Shea and Clifford captained their county to All-Ireland minor glory in 2016 and 2017 respectively, but neither will get an opportunity to line out for Kerry at U20 level this year because of a rule which O’Connor is vehemently opposed to.
Certain counties, such as Offaly, made an internal decision whereby players eligible for the new U20 grade cannot play senior championship football.
In Kerry, however, the possibility of O’Shea and Clifford — the pair contributed 0-9 during Sunday’s Munster SFC semi-final win over Clare — remaining with the U20s was never a runner.
“This rule is a bit skewed,” O’Connor said last night.
“A player can start off with his U20 team and if they are knocked out of the championship, he can then move up to the seniors the same year. But you can only go up, you can’t play with the seniors and then come back down.
"Donegal, for example, were knocked out of the U20 the other night. Jason McGee, who played with the seniors last year, is now free to return to play with the seniors after his U20 involvement.
“We’d love to have David and Seánie O’Shea. They are big players for the seniors, so you can imagine how big they would be for us.
“They may tweak that rule next year. It wasn’t one of the recommendations we made to them in Kerry. It is a pity.”
O’Connor, who steered the Kerry U21s to Munster success in 2017, a team which O’Shea was an integral member of, said neither the Kenmare forward nor Clifford were involved in discussions to determine which grade they would figure at this summer.
“The players were kept out of it. It was between myself, Eamon Whelan (U20 selector), Tim Murphy (county chairman) and Éamonn Fitzmaurice. We had a chat about it.
“It hasn’t come as any surprise to us that the lads have done well. They have shown the potential from well back.”
The former Kerry senior boss was present at Fitzgerald Stadium last Sunday. If that form can be maintained, then Fitzmaurice’s young troops, he believes, won’t be easily stopped.
“If you could get two teams going at each other like Kerry went after Clare, you’d have a great spectacle. Unfortunately, blanket defences don’t allow for that and you have to try and find another way to get around it.”
“Kerry have no option but to go with youth and pace. If Kerry can play as well as they did last Sunday, it will take a serious team to beat them.”