Jason O'Connor: Calendar season to benefit Limerick underage soccer stars

Jason O'Connor

Reporter:

Jason O'Connor

Email:

sport@limerickleader.ie

Jason O'Connor: Calendar season to benefit underage

Pike's Ben Doherty holds off Regional's Jamie Grimes during their Youth clash

SATURDAY mornings since October have had a familiar feel to it in most Limerick schoolboy footballing households I'm sure.

Our future stars wondering if the freezing cold and wet weather has robbed them of yet another weekly match.

Under the FAI Player Development Plan, under age players now experience competition football for the first time at U-12 level.

Historically, the U-16 age group is considered pivotal in every young footballers life, both for social reasons, (it is the age that the highest percentage of young men drop out of the game) and for footballing reasons, (it's their last year of schoolboy football) I want to look at what is provided for these players under our current "winter season" schoolboy structure.

If I played for a team in the U-16 Premier league, then I have, to date, played five league games since the season began on August 23.

It is even more of an eye-opener when I drill down further into this fact and realise that four of those five league games were played off in the space of two weeks between August 23 and September 6, with the fifth and final league game to date, played seven weeks later on October 28.

This system leaves players training for long periods without a match and is obviously disheartening for any young player.

One can also look at the other end of our competition based structure and see how the U-12 league is progressing.

If we look at U-12 division 1, all but two of the eight team league have played six games so far this season.

Again with the season beginning on August 26, five of these games were played in the first month of the season between August 26 and September 30 and after a break due to inclement weather these young players had to wait until October 28, four weeks later for their last league game to date.

When one considers a local "rule" which prevents clubs from playing friendly games, one realises why we lose some of our top young players to other codes and sports and also have a big fallout with the game when players reach their late teens.

That said we do not have to stay in the gloom of blanket call offs and wet and cold conditions for much longer as the solution is on the horizon.

The FAI directive on the one calendar season has been embraced around the country with nearly three quarters of the thirty two leagues currently playing their football in line with our national league structure.

The year after next is the deadline for all leagues to implement the directive which will allow our schoolboy players to play consistently, in better weather conditions and obviously on pitches which are in better playing condition.

If we look at our neighbours in the Clare league who have been playing one calendar season football since 2008, we can see the benefits in store for our local players going forward.

When one hears of whispers about the calendar season clashing with other codes and the question of us losing players because they will want to play other sports instead of football, one need only read the facts from a county like Clare which has a huge tradition in other sports. When one hears the question, what about our holidays? One need not worry but only listen to the facts.

Prior to the switch to the calendar season the Clare league in 2007 boasted sixty six teams playing schoolboy football across all age groups, this increased to seventy the next year when the calendar season began.

This figure increased again to seventy three the year after and has never decreased since.

The calendar season in Clare runs from April to October and includes one extra round of league fixtures across all age groups and also one extra cup competition for each age group and grade and all this is achieved including “a break” in the season to allow for all to go away for holidays.

This is manageable because, unlike our current “winter season” where we only have one game day, Saturday, in calendar season our game days are Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.

As we now have four times as many match days the season can be closed for a break midway through, this date is agreed by clubs at a delegate meeting but again looking at Clare this is traditionally last two weeks in July and first two weeks in August to facilitate the holiday period.

The calendar season provides the opportunity for more games for our young players, pitches in better condition to play on and more supporters at our schoolboy games as they are not all being played early morning.

Looking at the model being used in Clare, the opportunity for the FAI Futsal programme to run through October, November and concluding in January after closing for the Christmas period will now be open to all locally.

Futsal is a proven player development tool that is delivered at the moment sporadically by development officers in the form of late night leagues and schools programmes but with the calendar season the opportunity for our players to play in a structured continuous setting will be available.

Players who want to play other sports will play other sports but the calendar season will provide a calendar of football and futsal for our future stars that is put together with their development in mind.

When I started working for the FAI in Limerick nearly six years ago now we played all our schoolboy games on adult pitches with adult full sized goals.

Today, thankfully, that has changed thanks to the FAI Player Development Plan and we now use small pitches and small goal posts for small players.

The calendar season which will bring Limerick schoolboy football in line with the rest of the country will be of huge benefit to our players and assist them further in their development, this for me and all who are behind the development of the game locally will be a further huge step for the game in our city.