GAA legends and burned counties missing the magic of under-21 11 months ago

GAA legends and burned counties missing the magic of under-21

David Clifford and Sean O'Shea.

Two of the best players under the age of 20 in the country last year. Neither of them played in the All-Ireland under-20 competition.

Tomás Ó Sé reckons Kerry are missing out because of it this year. The value of an All-Ireland win he says, can never be sniffed at.

Before any of this, let's just go back to decision time for a second. February 2016 and GAA Congress are hunting down change. The esteemed and highly competitive under-21 championships become the fall guy.

Just like that, it's out with the old and in with the new, the All-Ireland under-21 championship is replaced with an under-20 competition.

"Any player that is named on a senior inter-county team is ineligible for the new competition"

Which is where Clifford and O'Shea come into it. Because of their prodigious talents, the two lads make it onto the Kerry senior panel. A few brownie points for Kerry's underage system, a proud day for all the coaches who had an involvement with these two gifted players.

But then Kerry are punished for it. The under-20 team is punished for it and the two lads are punished for it. Let's not forget, they're missing out on a chance of winning an All-Ireland with the fellas they grew up playing with.

It's a fairly harsh one. Kerry went onto lose the All-Ireland under-20 semi-final by a point to eventual winners Kildare. Are you telling us Clifford and O'Shea wouldn't have made a points difference?

"Had Clifford and O'Shea been playing last year, Kerry would have won," said Tomás Ó Sé matter of factly this week.

Few would argue against it.

For the last few years, everybody has been banging on about Kerry's underage crop. Five All-Ireland minors in a row, it's only a matter of time before the seniors are dripping gifted gems. But two of those minor teams have passed the under-20/21 age group without winning, and that's the important thing.

"Talent coming through for me is your U21 team winning. That's talent coming through..."

And Ó Sé is spot on. Kerry would have won if Clifford and Ó'Shea were playing and just imagine the confidence that would have given their teammates then. Peter Keane would be flushed this year.

"You look up, the first two teams that have gone through U21s, they lost and they lost the U20. I'd be cranky enough as a Kerry man, I think it's vital to win those competitions.

" You can't hedge your bets on a 17-year-old because they just won't come through.  I think the U20 or U21 is a serious competition.  I'd have no doubt they would have won it and that would mean so much to this team right now more so than the minors. They were winning no minors when we were winning All-Irelands but they were winning U21s - 1995, 1996, 1998, 2008.

"I think that whole competition has been diluted by the GAA by taking players out..."

Diluted is the word. Going back again to February 2016, the reasons behind the change were mostly burnout and player development reasons.

Padraic Joyce feels that the first decision, in changing the grade from 21s to 20 was a mistake. Surely the calendar could have been altered so as to prevent the clash with Sigerson and Senior championships.

"I probably would have left it the way it was to be honest because physically it's very hard to go from 20 into senior," says the Galway man.

"You miss out on that year there and unless the county boards around the counties are going to keep on the nine or 10 players that are overage and try to develop them, because the senior team won't bring that nine or 10 in, they're going to miss out then."

Then they're in limbo, which is exaclty what a couple of the Kerry players mentioned above could be in now.

"And they go back to their clubs for a year and a half until they're 22, 23 before they come back in. You're finding that now with teams that it's nearly 23, 24 years of age before they actually can come through and physically compete to play on a senior panel. So I would have left it at the U21 level."