BLEAK OUTLOOK - A drop in teams, interest and games has left Kilkenny junior soccer facing an uncertain future.
Teams pulling out, players abandoning the game and a lack of inter-league interest are just some of the problems blighting junior soccer in Kilkenny today.
After decades of success, the modern-day game has struggled to live up to the heights its predecessor hit.
The latest blow for the sport came after the Oscar Traynor team were pulled from this year's competition after a skeleton side - blighted by injuries and absentees - were hammered 5-0 in their opening game.
The murmurs have long been heard rumbling from sidelines up and down the county, so the Kilkenny People gave those in the game at grassroots level the chance to have their say.
Club officials, managers and players were asked a number of questions relating to their sport. The following are their words and thoughts (All views have been treated with anonymity. The * denotes a different speaker:)
Is the junior league in trouble?
* It’s definitely in trouble.
* Yes the league is in trouble.
* Yes. The standard of junior football has fallen massively in the last 10 years.
Big clubs are hoovering up all the smaller clubs’ players with promises of winning FAI and Leinster Junior Cups it makes the league less competitive.
In saying that you have to ask the question ‘well, why do players leave these smaller clubs?’ Lack of training facilities? Lack of coaching? Lack of ability to win things?
Personally I don’t have a massive issue with four teams from the ‘big two’ in the Premier Division - they’ve earned their right to be there. Evergreen B never use A team players and still every year with what seems to be the same group of players for the last ten years they survive.
There probably should be a rule that this can’t happen, but if clubs have a problem with it why not sort out their own sides and get up to the Premier and relegate these sides?
* I don’t think so, but a problem was caused by letting two teams from a club in the one league. If that was changed it would make a difference.
* Yes - Unfortunately. At a national level it all looks rosy with the success of Evergreen, Freebooters and Thomastown but locally soccer is dying - clubs and teams are pulling out at a rate of knots and more are to come. The response from the league committee looks lacklustre and there seems to be a very poor response to what is a crisis.
Country clubs, especially, have openly spoken about their difficulties in putting squads together in July and August when the hurling season is coming into full swing. Given that most these hurling and soccer clubs share players, it is an impossible task.
* The shape of the league is in trouble. This league has just last year supplied the Leinster Junior finalists and consistently has late stage FAI Junior Cup finishers annually. This is how the league has to be measured. Not from within but from without.
* I believe the Premier Division in Kilkenny is in trouble as Evergreen A and Freebooters A are so far ahead - through no fault of their own.
Talking to other clubs, Divisions One and Two are quite competitive. Teams are getting a decent game every week, which is what any club or player needs.
* Yes. One problem relates to the committee - if Tom (Mullins, secretary) or John (Corrigan, chairman) retired in the morning there is no-one there to take over - and they have no-one in place for that when it happens.
Positions should be for five years maximum with people lined up for roles when the five years are up.
There should be a five-year plan developed by the league for Coaching, Player Development, Capital Development, Finance, League Management Structure, to name a few things. At present there is no plan or vision for the future of soccer in Kilkenny.
What has been the biggest problem facing junior teams in the League in recent years?
* Players have to work unsociable hours, weekends, shift work and away from home
* The biggest problem is that players are too happy to play the Floodlit League during the week - this means they don’t have to commit to training or play on a Sunday morning.
From our point of view this is the main reason it’s hard to get players to commit. The League is doing nothing to prevent players from moving to play in the Floodlit League.
* The timeframe of games. The League doesn’t seem to care about a club’s second team - we need these teams to give all players a playing option. The fees are outrageous each year, with very little return for big money. Teams are also dropping out, dropping divisions, coming and going as they like.
* Recruiting and keeping players. The popularity of the Floodlit League is a big problem also. Players would rather be a top player in that and socialise on Saturday night than get up on a December morning and travel to the likes of Durrow or Johnstown.
* The biggest problems facing junior soccer in Kilkenny are the GAA, which is so strong, and inconsistency from referees.
* Despondency to the crisis, lack of direction and a willing ear from the top table. Clubs don’t feel listened to.
The absence of a dedicated schoolboy league is also a problem, while the format of the Premier Division is bananas. Unless you have a dedicated squad of soccer players who play nothing else, you are set up for failure.
* The biggest problem in recent years has been keeping lads around. A lot of our guys work in Dublin as tradesmen, while we’ve also had three emigrate to England and Canada since last season. Guys are working in Dublin, going up early and not coming home ’til late. With small kids at home they have no time to go training, which we fully understand.
* The existence of two teams from one club in the same division at adult level. It is anti-club to allow this. IF a club decides that it wants to run more than one junior team then we propose that they can do this however, a club cannot have two teams in the same division. This facilitates the development of young players from C to B to A.
* Nightowls (Floodlit League), emigration in certain areas and social issues like drink driving tests on a Monday morning have killed Sunday nights out. Years ago players enjoyed a game followed by a Sunday night out but can’t do that any more.
Should the League be revamped - fewer divisions?
* Yes. Restructure the league, no A or B team from same club in one division.
* Not playing every Sunday is a problem for clubs to keep players training every week and keep them interested so definitely the more games you have the better.
* Yes - three divisions across the board is our view.
* I would introduce a ‘B’ league. If clubs want to have second and third teams put them all in the same division.
These teams should only be working as feeder teams to the first teams anyway, so you’re still giving players games but you don’t end up with four of Evergreen and Freebooters in the Premier Division of our league.
There are 19 clubs in the junior league - no East End, Freshford Town, Spa United or Tullaroan. I would bring in the ‘B’ team league to try and get three of these or three new clubs involved and have three divisions of seven teams. This gives a week off every six weeks.
Clubs should be given their fixtures on the first day of the season for the season - it’s up to the clubs then to rearrange games or give up the points.
* There should only be three divisions. Fewer divisions would mean more games for teams which would ensure the league’s survival.
* Merging with Carlow should be explored, at least at a Premier level with one up from each league per year and a play off between both counties second-placed teams for the third promotion spot. That way you’d have a Super League (merger with Carlow’s top four, plus one), a Premier Division and Divisions One and Two.
Youths’ football could be played on alternate Sundays (under-17 and under-18). The League could also look at the possibility of running an Over-35s League (possibly seven-a-side in Derdimus).
Any withdrawals through disciplinary or poor administration issues should result in a compulsory two-year absence.
* A three-division league would suffice - Premier, Division One and Division Two. It might shorten the season, especially for clubs who have a lot of guys playing hurling.
What changes would you make to ensure the League’s survival?
* A more professional approach from county level.
* Fewer divisions. Allow the top two teams that finished in the Premier Division only to enter the FAI Junior and Leinster Junior Cups as these outside competitions hold up league games.
* Offer decent prizes for winning teams, like the AUL have done. Even offering two/three footballs when paying the affiliation fees would help. Fixtures printed out two/three months beforehand would be an idea, or have a reserve division.
* Junior football is dying on its feet. If we could bring back potential league of Ireland football in Kilkenny it would give junior players something to aspire to.
* Fresh faces to help the lads at the top table would also help, but clubs also need to buck up as regards facilities, footballs, etc.
* Look at the possibility of Summer Soccer. The first thing people will say is ‘what about hurling?’ but this year there were hurling fixtures in April/May. After that, hardly another ball was struck until September.
I think a lot of games could be played in this time. For instance, a Saturday evening game would bring people out and would generate interest - cold Sunday mornings don’t do that.
I know hurling would take preference but then our league could take a break for four weeks from the middle of September until the middle of October to let championship games, semi-finals and county finals take place - start the league in March and then it should be easily finished by the end of October.
* Split the schoolboy and junior football into separate committees. Restructure of Junior League. Buy-in from clubs into Oscar Traynor. Rethink the signing/transfer of players policy and control.
Make it mandatory that each schoolboy club must have an Under-8 year every year. Move the season start dates so as to avoid a clash with the busiest period of serious hurling in the county
* No ‘B’ teams allowed in Premier Division - look at playing matches on Saturday afternoons.
Has the Oscar Traynor competition passed its sell-by date?
* No but there should be more input and better support from Committee, which would help raise the standard.
* Definitely should be scrapped.
* We’d like to see the Oscar Traynor revamped - we play the same teams all the time. Maybe hold the competition over a weekend or two, or on a straight knockout basis.
* No, but clubs should be more willing to encourage players to take part. As a league we have a great tradition in the Oscar Traynor, but we’ve been a joke in recent years.
* With regards to the Oscar Traynor I think the League should introduce a rule whereby every club in Kilkenny should send in two players or else face a fine or loss of points.
The Committee needs to take a bigger interest in the competition, while every player should be proud to represent their League.
* It’s a good competition which isn’t respected in Kilkenny. A symptom of the disease.
* The Oscar Traynor is totally past its sell-by date but pulling a team out as we did was a disgrace, especially since it’s a competition Kilkenny have been so successful in.
* No, but it is not attractive enough for players. It should be special to play for the league but loads of issues e.g. poor training facilities, poor gear, no medical back up, no support from the league management.
* The Oscar Traynor always had severe trouble getting players. This goes back to the 80s too. Look at the successful Oscar Traynor sides in the past - what links them is strong management.
The Oscar Traynor competition could do with a revamp perhaps considering a one-off tournament run off over a weekend. (Players would still find an excuse to miss this probably!).
What has to be done to ensure there is a League for the next generation?
* A meeting with clubs and interested football people, personally I’ve never been contacted by my club or league to attend any such meeting.
* Unless there is a change made for what age you are allowed play in the Floodlit League I can see more country teams not fielding teams. Our club strongly believe this is the biggest threat to the league - we counted up 14 players that could play with us, but are inside playing on the AstroTurf.
* A lot more planning long term needs to be done in Kilkenny or football is in trouble in general.
* League has changed its structures in place with the FAI development plan all of which is positive. Schoolboy football up to Under-14 is probably as strong as it has ever been numbers are massive. The clubs must provide the coaching to light the fire in the players. I think if a pathway to the top of the game in Ireland was there the league would thrive. Kids see the Kennedy Cup as the end goal that should only be part along the way the end goal should be LOI and we need to provide it in Kilkenny.
* Guaranteeing a League for the next generation requires effort from every club involved. There should be a committee set up, with a member from every club, to ensure that the league is pushed forward in the right direction.
Certainly there would be disagreements and differences of opinions, but we would all have the same common goal - to ensure we have a league in 10 to 20 years and for the next generation.
* Action now before it’s too late. Recognise that there are issues, forget the past and focus on a plan with attainable goals for growth for the future.
* Improve facilities. Train your coaches. Set up and develop juvenile teams. They are the future.
* Proper planning and structures. The league management committee run the league on behalf of the clubs, but the clubs have to take responsibility for the way the league is run.
Clubs are going to meetings but are not asking questions and putting forward solutions to assist the league committee. Clubs need to stand up and come up with proposals for the future of the league.
Should Kilkenny follow the Kerry League’s example and enter teams in the National League?
* It’s something that should be looked at but it would want to be worked on properly not like the half hearted attempt made every year with the Oscar Traynor squad.
* I don’t think people will support a Kilkenny team - not many were interested in Kilkenny City. If players are going to go to the League of Ireland they will go to a better club in the country.
* 100%, We’ve got a stadium, We’ve got potential training facilities. We’ve had seven Irish international trials in the past two years at Under-15 level. Could you imagine a LOI Under-17 team next season with seven international trialists from the last two seasons?
At a schoolboy set-up we’ve had success in the Youths’ Inter-League and Under-16 Inter-League, Kennedy Cup Plate (fifth place) and Kennedy Bowl (ninth) wins so nobody can say we haven’t the players.
If we could get Under-15, Under-17 and Under-19 teams off the ground in five years why couldn’t we be back in the League of Ireland with a men’s team? The core of the Wexford Youths squad that won the First Division and the management team all came from Kilkenny soccer.
There are 10 to 15 players in the league of Ireland who have come through Kilkenny - that’s not including Mikey Drennan, Conor English and Dean Broaders who left league of Ireland clubs during the year or the 10 to 15 players playing LOI at Under-17 and Under-19 levels. The raw materials are there - all we need is the money and support.
* Kilkenny should definitely have representative teams in the League of Ireland. Having such sides will make the League stronger.
* Kilkenny has greater problems than National League. Kilkenny United have an independent, non political structure in place which could possibly work better.
With junior clubs buying in, it could be successful. It is logistically hugely costly and potentially disruptive if poorly executed.
Schoolboys' game is in better shape
The junior game may be going through a troublesome time, but clubs were adamant that football at schoolboys and schoolgirls level is in better shape, but is losing players at older age levels.
Is the schoolboys’ league in trouble?
* I don’t think so - there are a lot of people putting an effort in at schoolboy level.
* Again a lack of competition for teams is concerning. There way too few teams in most top divisions. Also with teams folding a lot of kids don’t get to play once their team folds midseason. The League should annul their registration with their old side and let them play with another team. It’s even harder if they have a county player, as most teams would have signed two throughout the club so that kid will never get to play that season again. Clubs should be allowed sign four/five county players across all the grades.
* Not at the younger age groups (Under-8 to Under-12) where all clubs have massive numbers. It’s after that I’m concerned - why are we lose half our players as they get older? Are we doing enough as coaches? I think clubs need to do more for their coaches in terms of coach education. Some are paying for their coaches to do courses.
* It’s not in trouble - it seems to be getting bigger!
* Schoolboy football is well supported but poorly structured, promoted and managed. Parents don’t know if they are coming or going. Generally speaking at the smaller ages you are playing the same teams every few with no variation.
* It’s never been stronger.
* No. Schoolboys/girls leagues are getting bigger!
* Schoolboy leagues have huge numbers. I have studied our fixtures and have spoken to club coaches - it seems our kids from Under-10 upwards are getting a decent amount of games.