The manager of the Clare minor footballers feels an opportunity was missed by the GAA to have an open draw All-Ireland series for the grade in 2020.
The revised draws for the Munster minor championship, which will be run on a knockout basis, sees Clare taking on Tipperary in the provincial quarter-final with the winners facing either Limerick or Waterford. Last year’s finalists, Cork and Kerry, will meet in the other last four tie.
Clare have made steady progress under the guidance of Kilmurry Ibrickane’s Dermot Coughlan with the 1992 Munster championship winner steering his side to the Daryl Darcy Cup in 2019. It saw them emerge from the initial round robin series of the provincial competition before a narrow defeat to Cork saw them just lose out on a place in the decider.
Coughlan, who is in his second year in the role, is looking forward to getting back to training but says he was fearful that there may not have been any action this year.
“I would have been one of those who said in the early stages that there should not have been anything played. There is that duty of care to our elderly and people with underlying conditions who still hold key positions in our clubs. There are players who would have asthma and things like that so there was a lot of uncertainty around that time and I was certainly not someone who was rushing to go back. Now that things have opened up a bit, we will hopefully be in a better position by the time we get going again in mid-September and the picture will be a lot clearer. Initially we did not really push the lads as we did not think there was going to be anything this year so we left them work away on their own and Rob Mulcahy gave them some strength and conditioning stuff to work on. It is only since the dates came out that we have ramped things up a bit and they are back with their clubs. Once we get back on September 14, we only have the few weeks to hit the ground running” he noted.
The minor club championship in both codes are set to get underway at the end of the month, and Coughlan says it will give players a chance to concentrate on their club before turning their attentions to the county panel.
“It is proper order. Everything starts and finishes with the club and it is the first year I have seen where there is a window to get it played. In other years teams could cancel games and you could have a big break between games in the minor championship at club level but now they will be playing every second week and it is the way to go. It is right that the club are going first and that there be zero tolerance in terms of cancelling games” he stated.
There was much debate last week when the decision was made to have this year’s minor club championship played as an U-17 competition. It is understood that a number of clubs objected to the move, and the decision was reversed. It means both minor hurling and football club championship will be played for U-18’s, but Coughlan outlined that in his opinion there was merit to making the change.
“It depends really to be honest with you. If you had a strong team at U-18, you would want it to be U-18 this year and I can see where they are going. If I was involved with a club myself, maybe I would do it too. I think it has to follow the line of the inter-county though. Kerry are the last to change everything because they are real traditionalists but they are even going to U-17 next year. My view on it is that with no U-12, you have to go with U-13, U-15, U-17 and U-20 to be in line with inter-county so players come through playing on their grade. Someone is always going to lose out at some stage and if you are going to eventually make that transition, you might have to run a competition solely for that age group. If it is U-18 at hurling, then it had to be U-18 at football because you cannot have it different from one to the other, but I would have gone with keeping it in line with the county scene at U-17 across the board” he outlined.
This year’s inter-county minor football championship will be run on a knockout basis, and while Coughlan admits there is an opportunity to reach a provincial decider, he feels that model has passed its sell-by date.
“There is a great incentive there for one of the four counties in our side of the draw to get to a Munster final. That is the beauty of the open draw, but for the year that is in I feel they had a great chance to go the whole hog and do an open draw for the 32 counties. Cork and Kerry have won six of the last eight All-Ireland’s between them so in my opinion, it needs to be changed. If you told one of the lower clubs in England that they were going to draw Manchester United or Liverpool in the first two rounds of the FA Cup every year, it would be hard to see that lasting 100 years. There have been plenty Clare minor teams who have been in the top eight teams in the country on a given year and would have had that chance to go on and play at that level in any other province. We improved last year because we played six games and if you look at the improvement from our first game to our last, it was massive. If you are getting drawn against Cork and Kerry in the early rounds, it makes it very difficult. We are a dual county and we are picking from a small pool so we need every incentive going. The provincials are gone and are outdated in my opinion” he concluded.