ANTRIM’S Ulster Minor Football Championship clash with Monaghan has been postponed due to Level 5 restrictions imposed by the Irish Government.
The young Saffrons were due to face the Farneymen at Toome on Saturday, but that was thrown into doubt when it emerged on Wednesday morning that only senior inter-county games were permitted within the restrictions, as advised by Nphet.
Initially, it was understood that underage inter-county games fell under the ‘elite’ tag that would have allowed them to proceed, but it then emerged that only senior games fell under this bracket.
The decision came on Wednesday afternoon and confirmed what many were expecting since news that Saturday’s All-Ireland U20 Football final between Galway and Dublin was postponed and the rest were due to follow.
U20 and Minor competitions began at the weekend with action in football and hurling around the provinces including a win for Antrim’s U20 hurlers over Down.
The news is a huge blow to Antrim’s minors who were looking ahead to a repeat meeting with Monaghan who they lost out to by just one point in last year’s Ulster Minor Football Championship.
Manager, Paddy Kelly, says he feared the worst when receiving a message from the Monaghan manager this morning and admits it will be a huge blow to his players.
“I woke up the morning to about 10 messaged on my phone,” he said.
“I thought: “Oh God, what’s this,” and the first message was actually from the Monaghan minor manager Mark Counihan.
“I am absolutely devastated for the players – I didn’t even want to share it with them on our Whatsapp.
“Most of them were heading to school or college at that time in the morning. I had different messages from coaches this morning and they are just in disbelief.
“We had done everything possible to keep everybody safe.
“I obviously want to keep myself self and my family safe and that goes for everybody involved so everything was done by the book. I can’t see how we were at risk to anyone.
“This group are so committed and so dedicated – they are a pleasure to work with.
“They live, sleep and breathe Antrim football and that’s their ‘raison d’étre’ and I’ll have to speak to a few of them individually because this will hit them hard.
“The only viable solution would be to schedule an U18 competition to run alongside the U17s next year like they did in 2017 when the minor grade was changed. Otherwise these lads are going to lose out completely.”
Kelly is angered by what he perceives is the lack of communication from the top that has led to this situation where underage competitions have already begun but are now, once again, put on hold.
Preparations for his group of players have been ongoing for several years, since they formed part of the U15 team and he believes the whole situation could have been handled much better by the powers that be.
“A couple of weeks ago when Level 5 was first mentioned, we had talked about it and what it would mean for the Minor grade,” he added.
“We thought that inter-county sport could continue so we never saw it as an issue. It seems as though the wording on the protocols have been changed.
“Our lads will be devastated. I don’t know where they go from here. Six weeks takes us right us to just before Christmas.
“When are they going to reschedule? I’d be very scared that they’ll just pull the plug on the whole thing.
“This isn’t just six months of work – these guys have been together from U15 so it is three years of work to get to this point. They will be in a state of shock with this news.”