The U20 competition replaces the old U21 championship and given that no player can double up between U20 and senior, the GAA has abandoned the scheduling of previous years when the U21 was run off before the All-Ireland SFC threw-in.
The Munster U20 championship begins this Friday as Kerry travel to Newcastlewest to face Limerick (7pm). Kerry’s preparations, O’Connor insisted, haven’t been aided by the prohibition on inter-county challenge matches from Thursday to Sunday inclusive.
Counties, from April on, were bound by rule to play their challenge games on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. O’Connor said this was not possible for Kerry given that he has players in college in Cork, Limerick, Dublin, and Galway.
“I don’t know where this challenge game ban came from. How that one slipped through Congress, I don’t know. Some of these rule changes, people don’t think them through,” said the three-time All-Ireland winning senior manager.
“Maybe in Cork, Dublin, or Galway, where you have the players at home all the time, you could slip down the road for a challenge. But, in our case, you can’t gather players from Cork, Dublin, Galway, Limerick, and Kerry, five locations, and play challenge games on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. It doesn’t work.
“We couldn’t even play challenge matches on weekends where there were no club fixtures. That’ll certainly have to be looked at.”
O’Connor added: “The university cities, Galway, Limerick, Cork, and Dublin, certainly have a big advantage as most of their players are going to college in their own county. We’ve always been very aware of not dogging our fellas, we didn’t bring them down from college midweek.
“I don’t think anyone benefits from a four-hour round journey, and two hours training in the middle of it, at the end of a day where you are supposed to be studying.”
The Kerry boss welcomed the switch in scheduling from March/April to June/July, but would have preferred if the Munster quarter-finals were put back by one week to allow the eight Leaving Cert students on his panel finish their exams. One panellist, Diarmuid O’Connor, will sit his final exam hours before Kerry face Limerick.
“In other provinces, they’ve started earlier — which is right smack bang in the middle of the Leaving Cert. That will have to be looked at next year. The Leaving Cert is the most important exam they’ll ever do in their life.
“Ironically, the GAA, by changing minor to U17, was trying to free up the minors from being forced to play and train during their Leaving Cert, but they’ve caught the 20s now. Some of these rule changes aren’t thought through. It might take a year or two before they tweak it and get it right.”
Friday’s team will be largely made up of players from the 2016 and 2017 All-Ireland minor-winning sides. Absent will be the respective captains of these two teams, Seán O’Shea and David Clifford.
“There are good fellas there, but the big question is how much of an influence was David Clifford on those minor teams. He was absolutely massive, he scored 4-4 in last year’s All-Ireland minor final.
“It is a big opportunity for these fellas to see can we function as a unit without having a superstar like Clifford, and Seánie who is also a great player. It is a challenge for the rest of the lads and I’m hoping it will bring out the best in them.
“The attitude is good so despite the loss of the two boys, who’d have been the X-factor, with good teamwork, togetherness and team spirit, we’ll make up somewhat for that.”