THE SuperValu West Cork Schoolboys League is hoping to make a return in early August. Ger McCarthy sat down with WCSL Secretary David Hall and got his opinion on a wide range of topics.
GER McCARTHY (GMC): Your league and committee have come through an incredibly difficult period because of the coronavirus. As of today, where does the West Cork Schoolboys League’s immediate future stand?
DAVID HALL (DH): Our committee met and decided upon a strategy of consultation with each of our clubs. That’s because, regardless of HSE and government protocols, the practicalities differ amongst each of the clubs around West Cork. Rather than attempt to impose a one-size-fits all solution, the committee believed embarking on a series of consultations with each club to understand their individual concerns. We felt that this was the best way forward. We have met (virtually, via Zoom) with all bar two clubs and gone through the specific protocols they want to put in place.
Some clubs are already back training while others feel they need more time to organise themselves. That’s why we had to get an understanding of where clubs are. In some instances, 50 percent of parents are not happy for their children to return just yet. The committee cannot restart a league until we find a common denominator amongst all participants and that’s what we have been focussing on, engaging with, and discussing these last few weeks.
We have to do what is right for our members. People are still afraid of contracting or spreading the virus and that’s completely understandable. So, that’s why we are taking every possible step to ensure everyone’s safety before going back.
GMC: Is it the WCSL Committee’s hope, subject to enough interest and participants, that there will be schoolboys football sometime between now and December?
DH: We still have an initial target date (early August) and a revised format for all our WCSL age-groups that we hope to implement. Remember we were due to start our 2020 season a few months ago back in March after the WCSL agreed to move to a new March to November calendar season for the next three years. There was no point in just continuing with half a league within our existing structures over the next couple of months.
We are going to adopt a regionalised ‘Champions League’ style format that we first put to the clubs for their approval. So, yes, there will be on-field action between now and December. Rather than force a team to do something they were uncomfortable with or a deadline they couldn’t meet, we instead want to progress things organically. A changed format involving less travel and less games will make for a more relaxed approach to returning to the field for clubs involved.
GMC: Can you expand on your regionalised Champions League format as opposed to the WCSL’s traditional league structures and how it will work?
DH: Firstly, the WCSL Committee realised that football will be coming back around the same time as underage GAA, rugby and a whole heap of other sports. Therefore, we wanted a new format that would mean less travel, less risk and increase the excitement of playing in a new competition.
Teams will be broken into groups of three. For example, if you take the U12 age-grade’s top division, we will split teams into two groups of three. They will be regionalised and play one another home and away. As an example, we might place Ardfield, Clonakilty AFC and Lyre Rovers in a group together.This format will also help with the grading teams of second, third, fourth and fifth placed finishers for the following season. Then, we will use the coefficient of wherever teams finish to organise our 2021 league structures.
GMC: So, just to clarify, the WCSL intends to play out reduced Champions League-style competitions and finish this Covid-19 affected season before starting a brand new March to November campaign once again in 2021?
DH: Yes, but the WCSL Committee also has additional plans to add to our usual weekend league and cup offerings from next season onwards as well. Chairperson Declan Deasy has been very active in helping me expand on the idea of possibly introducing a midweek Futsal League and other things that might yet come into play. West Cork is looking at a more multifaceted approach. We have time on our sides by starting in early August but that’s dependent on the outcome of our continuing consultations with WCSL clubs.
GMC: Expanding the West Cork Schoolboys League’s portfolio would be a positive move but what about schoolgirls in the region? There are areas within West Cork where schoolgirls football is very strong and other areas where it is not. How likely is it that the WCSL will be in a position to offer young female footballers the same opportunities as boys from 2021 onwards?
DH: The WCSL Committee now has a very specific strategy that relates to the future of schoolgirls football in West Cork. You have the likes of Drinagh Rangers who are extremely strong when it comes to their schoolgirls’ membership and are actively training. I took advice directly from the FAI on this and we are looking to franchise schoolgirls football in an effort to attract more players. What I mean by that is, we would create a specific competition for girls alone.
What we have found from our assessment of WCSL clubs is that, in most cases, only a handful of schoolgirls are currently registered. For example, Riverside Athletic might have four or five girls, Dunmanway might five, likewise Togher Celtic, but those girls would all be in and around the same age. We would be recommending that all of those players sign up for a franchise (amalgamated team) and share the coaching responsibilities to enter a team in the girls-only competition.
There are legalities to be confirmed but this idea would mean girls could play in a specific competition and not have their registration affected if they wanted to line out for their club in the schoolboys league as well.
GMC: Finally, what message would you have for parents of WCSL players who might be concerned about a return to on-field action?
DH: Firstly, I would recommend speaking directly to the chairperson, committee members or coaches at your club. Naturally, there is a lot of apprehension around but also, unfortunately, a lot of misinformation too.
The WCSL Committee will impose safety protocols for when your child is at their specific club training and playing games which they (club) will carry out. The biggest risk, for us, is children coming to and from training. So, my advice to parents would be to engage with your club. Go and speak with them about any concerns you might have. The WCSL Committee is already dealing with the same types of frequently asked questions. Everyone has the same concerns. Our message to clubs is simple – don’t come back until you are ready. Don’t feel under any pressure. That same message goes to the parents of our players. If you feel your boy or girl isn’t ready to go back then so be it. Be comfortable with everything that has been put in place and seek clarification on anything that you don’t understand. Only return when you are happy to do so.