Mayo and Cavan/Monaghan players shake hands prior to the SFAI Under 13 Inter-League final in 2019. Both Mayo and Cavan/Monaghan went on to play in the Under 13 National League last year.

Mayo's Kennedy Cup preparations have been put on hold

Mayo's Kennedy Cup preparations have been put on hold for now.

The Schoolboys Football Association of Ireland (SFAI) has introduced a new rule meaning that just five players who returned from the SSE Airtricity Under 13 League last year are eligible to play for their representative league at the Kennedy Cup this year.

Having taken part in the National League last year, Mayo have been hit hard by this ruling.

The SFAI said the decision followed a ballot of all member leagues conducted via their SFAI Council members, and that the action arose from the decision at FAI level to commence national league divisions at Under 13 level last year, which directly leads on to the Kennedy Cup at Under 14 age group and affects those players released by National League clubs to return to schoolboy clubs under the SFAI's jurisdiction.

“In the interests of reaching an equitable outcome, taking in the aspirations of current and returning players, the SFAI Council and its leagues has given democratic voice to all members in determining a policy to address this situation,” the SFAI said in a statement released last week.

“The SFAI has been placed in an invidious position whereby there are players currently training at schoolboy leagues with aspirations and expectations to play in the Kennedy Cup 2020 who may well now be displaced by players returning from National League clubs.

“As an association, we have a duty of care to players who have remained within the SFAI league structure while fully accepting that returning National League players may be selected on the basis of their elite abilities.

“Moreover, there may be players returning over and above the maximum of five players per league who will be unable to play in the tournament. However, given the parameters of available action, the SFAI has acted democratically and in the best interests of all in trying to accommodate both sides of the situation.”

Mayo SL had a squad of 20 last year. In effect, under the new ruling, three-quarters of them will be unavailable for the Kennedy Cup squad this year

It's a 'horrendous' scenario, said Mayo manager Walter Barrett. He took charge of the Mayo SL team in the SSE Airtricity National League last year and, with his coaching team, had been conducting extensive trials with a view to selecting the squad in the very near future for this year's Kennedy Cup tournament in June. He envisaged up to 16 of last year's Mayo SL squad being involved in the Kennedy Cup selection.

“I've no idea where to go now,” Barrett said when news of the SFAI ruling broke. “We find it horrendous that politics is being taken out on 13- and 14-year-old kids. Those kids did not make an informed decision when they signed up to the National League last year.

“There are 360 kids all over Ireland who will be affected, unless they go to the Under 15 National League, which very few will.”

David Stapleton, who was part of the Mayo SL backroom team last year too, said that while all League of Ireland clubs were required to play in the Under 13 National League as part of their licence requirements, Mayo and the other schoolboy entities had to create an environment to compete at that elite level, and looked upon participation last year as one strand of a three-year plan geared towards participation in the Kennedy Cup this year.

After the National League ended last October, Mayo SL players were allowed to return to their local clubs in December and many have been playing in SFAI Cup and Connaught Cup competitions. “Is it okay to play in those tournaments – which are schoolboys tournaments – but not play in the Kennedy Cup?” asked Mr. Stapleton. “It's unsound decision making.”

He added: “How do you explain to parents that their son is not eligible to play in the Kennedy Cup? How do you explain to young boys who just want to play football that they can't take part in this prestigious tournament?”

The Mayo Schoolboys/Girls & Youths League, together with five other schoolboy entities (as opposed to League of Ireland clubs) competing at National League level, namely Kerry, Carlow, Kilkenny, Kildare and Cavan/Monaghan, is now seeking to have a meeting with the FAI and the SFAI with a view to having the decision reversed.

“It's discrimination against kids for something they didn't know about when signing up to play national league last year,” said Dave Breen of the Mayo Youths.

“There was no restriction put on them when they signed up last year (for the Under 13 National League). It's disappointing for those kids. What we should be doing is kids-centric, it should be all about the players, and this is going against them.”

The New Balance Kennedy Cup 2020 is due to be held from June 9 to 13 at the University of Limerick.