GAA Football

Armagh U17 boss Ciaran McKeever disappointed at lack of engagement with clubs over month of April

Ciaran McKeever has criticised those clubs who didn't turn up to a meeting to discuss the player welfare of the U17 county squad

ARMGH'S U17 manager Ciaran McKeever has lamented the perceived lack of engagement with clubs after a paltry number of managers turned up to a meeting to discuss how best to handle the thorny month of April.

The former county defender, who assumed the U17 reins last November, revealed that just eight managers showed up while he had a further three phone conversations with managers.

McKeever felt compelled to pull his U16-and-a-half contingent out of last Monday night's round of fixtures at U18-and-a-half level in the interests of player welfare.

“There was a round of U18-and-a-half matches on Monday night and I pulled all my U16-and-a-half players from playing in it,” explained the Cullyhanna native.

“I would let them play on the Thursday night in their own age bracket. People don't realise this but those boys will have played eight to nine matches in the last two weeks.

“We have a monitoring system in place with the minor squad. We were away last weekend playing Dublin and after the match a lot of those boys were sitting in ‘red' [a traffic light system that gauges energy levels] and I couldn't afford them to play on Monday night.

“We ask the players to be honest and rate themselves as red, yellow or green. If they're at ‘red' they are at risk of breaking down.”

Armagh face Derry in the Ulster MFC opener on Saturday April 27 at The Athletic Grounds but trying to strike a balance between the players' studies, club commitments and rest has been virtually impossible.

“When I took this job I wanted to involve the parents and the clubs in everything we were doing,” McKeever said, who is employed by the Armagh County Board to coach in local schools.

“At the end of March, start of April, we met the parents and gave them our schedule for the month of April. We had one training session per week pencilled in and a friendly match on the Saturday and we had three days pencilled in for the boys to do nothing, just study and have some down time.

“That was a really encouraging meeting with the parents. We have 19 clubs represented in the U17 squad, so that's 38 managers (U18-and-a-half and U16-and-a-half).

“I invited all the managers to a meeting – I tried to involve them about trying to manage the players in April, that we weren't overloading their bodies – and eight managers turned up.

“I spoke to three managers on the phone. A big part of my role is player welfare... You're led to believe that academy squads and development squads are the problem in the GAA, which is far from true.”

McKeever added: “It's a difficult and busy period for these young fellas because the Armagh leagues kicked in at the start of April and with the age bracket changes – 18-and-a-half and 16-and-a-half (from U18 and U16) – means that 90 per cent of my squad are playing in both matches.

“We only get them on a Wednesday evening and a Saturday, and you throw exams into the middle of that, the boys are trying to study for exams. So it's been a tough couple of weeks for them.”

McKeever feels that further tweaks are required in order for the various age groups in Gaelic football to function properly.

“I think it's wrong from the top down. Croke Park are running an U17 All-Ireland competition and you've different age brackets in counties. It should be streamlined right across Ireland. That is something that has to be looked at.

“In Armagh, I don't think there is any need to start our club leagues in April. We could hold off until June when all the exams are over instead of having a six-week break around June when the kids should be playing football.”

Electric Ireland Ulster Minor (U17) Football Championship fixtures: Saturday April 20: Monaghan v Down (Clones, 6pm); Saturday April 27: Cavan v Fermanagh (Kingspan Breffni Park, 6pm), Armagh v Derry (The Athletic Grounds, 6pm), Donegal v Tyrone (Ballybofey, 6pm), Antrim v Monaghan/Down (If Monaghan, Corrigan Park. If Down Pairc Esler, 6pm).

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