Rebel Óg secretary Shane Supple hopes juvenile players will not be forgotten about if there is a return to games activity later this year, but warned that underage competitions will be “incredibly difficult” to run off as adult fixtures will get first priority on pitches and referees.
St Ita’s clubman Supple was appointed full-time secretary of Cork’s juvenile board in October and while there were many ideas he hoped to implement during his first year in the role, Covid-19 has put everything on hold due to the lockdown.
If there is a return to action in autumn, Supple says it is “vitally important” a games program is provided for juvenile players. Logistically, he is acutely aware of the problems that lie ahead for juvenile fixture-makers when the GAA sanction a return to games activity.
“There is a fear that if, for example, games return on September 1, we are going to have such a glut of fixtures, but such a shortage of referees and pitches because senior teams will get priority,” Supple remarked.
“What will happen is the adult championships will commence and that tends to push the facilities and manpower towards those competitions, making it harder for us to get pitches and referees. For every adult championship game, you are losing three referees (the man in the middle and the two acting as linesmen). There is only a certain number of referees in Cork, and you’ll have ladies football, camogie, adult GAA, and ourselves all vying for the same manpower and facilities.
“I don't know how possible it is going to be to get all our fixtures in. Logistically, it is going to be incredibly difficult.”
Supple added: “So long as the weather is fine, every pitch is an option. But if there is to be a return and it is pushed out towards September, the evenings will be getting shorter and consequently, floodlit pitches will become more of a priority.
“As you progress into October, November, and December, the number of unplayable pitches will increase and that again limits the number of available pitches. There is a fear [certain underage competitions may not get off the ground], but that fear is not just in Cork. It is everywhere. Our aim, as a board, is to make sure we get as many teams at the different age-groups, from U6 all the way up to minor, out on the pitch. We will try and give everyone equal playing time, if it is deemed safe to return.”
Having been deprived of so much social interaction as a result of schools closing on March 13, as well as missing milestones such as their communion, confirmation, sixth-class and sixth-year graduation events, and the Junior and Leaving Cert, Supple stressed the importance of providing games for young people as soon as it is safe to do so.
“Today's 12-year-old will be playing senior for his club in 10 years' time. Ten years after that, he might be combining his playing duties with an underage coaching role or committee position. So it is vital we keep these young players interested and involved and don't forget them in the conversation around a potential return to play. All they want to do is play a game of hurling or football. It is important for kids to have that social entanglement with their local club, to be involved with their community. It is where they meet their friends.”
The Rebel Óg secretary - who praised the work of Cork-based GDAs for keeping clubs engaged during the lockdown - has conflicted views on keeping pitches shut until July 20. He can understand why the decision was made but feels it portrays a lack of trust on behalf of Croke Park towards clubs.
“I know for my six-year-old grandson, social distancing means nothing to him. When he sees his good friend, he's going to run over and give him a hug. That’s a natural reaction for children, but that is a fear people would have if the pitches are reopened. That said, clubs are a little bit more responsible than they have been given credit for. If clubs are permitted to reopen their pitches, there are good people who will man the field. It is a pity we are restricted to this.”