Donohoe: 'U20s have been left high and dry'
Cavan U20 manager Damien Donohoe believes that U20 teams around the country were left “high and dry” by the GAA’s return-to-play announcement last week.
Croke Park issued a revised master fixture plan which gives senior inter-county teams the green light to return to training from April 19, with the National League to throw in on May 15/16 while club competitions can resume as soon as county teams begin to exit the provincial and All-Ireland championships.
While U17s can train collectively in pods of 15, there was no indication forthcoming as to when U20 teams can begin to train again or when their competition may begin.
“We are still left in the dark completely, unfortunately,” said Donohoe.
“It’s very disappointing because initially these lads would have been coming together to do trial games and stuff before Christmas and start their preparation for a competition that was due to start in March and they would have been in the thick of it at this moment in time.
“Then with all changing, it is understandable that the March date was no longer applicable but what is really disappointing for these U20s is that there have been no guideline given of when the competition may be played. In doing that, it left them out on their own.
“Senior inter-county players have been given a return to train date which is brilliant and I’m delighted to see that. They’ve given club players a return to play date, conditions permitting, they will be playing in the club championship in the first week of September.
“Anybody under 18 is allowed to train in pods of up to 15 in a non-contact environment by the end of this month but the lads who have been left off are the U20s who have been given no guidelines.”
The Drumalee clubman believes that a lack of clarity for U20 players is a further blow to a group who have missed out on so much in sport and general life over the past 13 months and that is potentially having a negative impact on these young people’s mental health.
“Because I’m dealing with them, I’m seeing the problems that are there within this group of players. We are talking about a period in their lives when they should be going to college for the first time, leaving the comforts of Mam and Dad and heading up and learning to be independent.
“All the social development that comes with meeting new people from different parts of the country, trying to find a girlfriend or a boyfriend, their whole development, their introduction to independence, their education, all of this has been stunted, it has been put on hold.
“I remember when I was that age, it was such a big part of my life to be able to go out and meet people and socialise and interact with people, it was great for my physical development and mental health. I think the mental health of these boys is very important and it’s something that has been overlooked.
“I think realistically, these boys have sacrificed as much if not more than most and what they needed from the GAA was a little bit of clarity. Even if it’s just a target, an aim. Even if it had been said that the competition would be in November or in July or August, at least they’d have had a date to work towards.
“As of now, they have no idea if it’s going to be in June, July or August. They know it won’t be September while the club championships are going on but could be November or December time.
“A bit of clarity would go a long way and I’m just very disappointed that the GAA have ignored the needs of these players who are very vulnerable at this moment in time.”
While recognising the difficult job of the authorities, Donohoe appealed to the GAA to “rectify this mistake” as soon as possible.
“It’s very, very disappointing that one gap has been left. That one age group, 18, 19-year-olds, even 17-year-olds that might be involved in the panel, they have sacrificed so much so far.
“I think just a little bit of clarity from the GAA, a date, would have helped the players start to plan something into the future.
“The clubs have been given a date but they don’t know when they’ll be allowed back training by the government. This excuse that the GAA are using, ‘oh well we haven’t been given any clarity from the government as to when U17s and U20s can commence’ – well, they haven’t been given clarity as to when the clubs can commence. So I can’t understand why these lads have been treated differently to club players.
“I’d make the appeal to the GAA that they would try to consider the position that these lads are in.
“Nobody is making the argument that it would be under the elite grade but club doesn’t fall under that elite category either and that’s where I am most frustrated. Had the announcement came out during the week that senior inter-county was going to happen on certain dates and they had no other information at this moment in time, then you could understand it.
“But they gave clubs a date and didn’t give the U20s a date and didn’t give the U17s a competitive date. That is the disappointing part for me, they treated one group differently than they treated another, even though the same information applies to both.
“They neglected the U20s in this incidence. I presume it was an oversight, that they just didn’t really think down into it. A lot of people on social media are saying that the GAA doesn’t care about the U20s because it’s not a money-maker, I don’t buy into that personally.
“I think the GAA just maybe might have taken their eye off the ball. They have a lot going on. I think the GAA has done brilliantly over the course of this pandemic myself.
“Okay, there were a couple of slips but show me any area of society that hasn’t made a mistake over the last year. But with the U20s, they have dropped the ball and left them high and dry.
“From the announcement on Thursday, immediately my phone was hopping with U20 players asking me ‘what happens with us? What are we going to do? What plan do we have to go by now?’
“The uncertainty hasn’t been good for the U20s and I think it’s important that the GAA rectify that mistake.”
The Cavan manager believes that it is imperative the competition is played, even if it is next November. Several other U20 managers nationwide have publicly expressed similar sentiments in recent days, including Meath’s Bernard Flynn.