Last night, Carlow GAA tweeted out a text message which claimed that four of their Under-15 players were unable to play GAA under instructions from their soccer club, Carlow/Kilkenny FC. The tweet has since been deleted.
There followed an immediate outcry in the media and online, with Sligo legend Eamonn O'Hara branding the impression that "kids [were forced] to pick one sport over another" as "disgraceful". One media report called it "disgusting"; another branded it "absurd".
Forcing kids to pick one sport over another.. !! Disgraceful!!! these so called coaches/managers/decision makers shouldn’t be let near any kind sports field if this is there mind set! https://t.co/LzmLCjA6wo
— Eamonn O’ Hara (@EamonnOHara8) March 1, 2018
In response to the controversy, the manager of the Carlow/Kilkenny Under-15 squad Mark Ross has expressed his annoyance that a private message was taken out of context and posted online.
Speaking to Balls, Ross said that the message has been "blown out of proportion".
It was a private message sent to the lads’ Carlow GAA coach, that he then edited and sent to Carlow GAA who then put it up online. It is an edited version which doesn’t represent what was said to the coach originally. That’s why everyone is getting so vexed; it wasn’t sent in the context it is being portrayed in.
It annoys me that it was done in the way it was done.
The context, Ross says, is player welfare.
At the formation of the club last year, the parents of all children on the Kennedy Cup squad and parents of any other children who were interested in being put forward for trials met with FAI Regional Development Officers, and were asked if they objected to the club's intention to implement a policy whereby players who were asked to be part of the club's squad in the National Under-15 league would not be permitted to play other elite-level sport.
No parent objected, and there were no subsequent objections when this was raised with parents at later meetings. On February 22nd, Carlow/Kilkenny signed nineteen players up to their under-15 squad and under the terms of agreement, the players are not permitted to play with Carlow GAA or any other elite, high-paced sport until the end of that contract in June.
As a result, four members of the Carlow under-15 squad elected to play soccer, but it also worked the other way round: Carlow/Kilkenny saw three of their players pick GAA.
It’s not sport vs sport scenario, it is a logistical, physical, and mental wellbeing issue.
I’m not stopping them from playing all sports, but at the League of Ireland's elite level, we are expected to follow certain rules relating to child welfare.
We signed 19 players, and every one of those players will play in every game.
Ross agrees that kids shouldn't have to choose between sports at such an early age, but the demands of elite-level soccer at under-15 level are onerous.
They’re with us on Mondays for a recovery or gym session, Tuesdays for a technical session, and Thursdays for a tactical session on a full-size pitch. Then on the weekend they'll have a game as far away as Kerry or Galway.
This game is on a Saturday or a Sunday, the home side chooses which day the game is played.
It’s unfair to make a child choose. So we made the decision, and we missed out on three of the best players in Carlow because of that, as they wanted to concentrate on GAA. That’s fantastic, I don’t care once they are concentrating on some sport.
With either training or a match on four days a week, for children who will be doing exams, revision and other school activities, there is little time left to concentrate on a second sport.
The commitment and physical and mental exertion for that age group at elite level is phenomenal.
Ross also clarified the story in a Facebook post that was shared by Carlow GAA.
We make no apologies for highlighting this issue for all our
U.14, 15, & 16 Colts going forward.
We never normally engage these issues on social media but there are always tipping points.
Lest there be any confusion of the message, please see attached from @cwkkfc Manager: pic.twitter.com/3S1JsrJq1D
— Carlow GAA (@Carlow_GAA) March 1, 2018