Soccer players in Kerry are not happy.
I knew that before I wrote last week’s article but things have come more sharply into view over the past few days. In addition to my own personal grievances, which have been echoed by players from clubs all over the county, a slew of other complaints have come to light, ranging from the irritating to the downright infuriating.
Paying to get into Mounthawk Park when you’re playing a match is a major gripe and people outside of Kerry were appalled when they heard that this is common practice in the KDL.
The issue of the floodlights in Mounthawk being used too sparingly was also verified by another player from North Kerry, who stated that the many teams who use KDL headquarters as their home venue are charged extra if they require the lights, but it’s often nearly dark before they’re switched on.
Meanwhile, the practice of deciding the league title by having a playoff between the top two teams has been heavily criticised by a number of observers who consider it unfair on the side who finish first. It’s entirely possible that the league leaders could finish way out in front but end up losing the title in the one-off, end-of-season final, which is always played at Mounthawk Park.
As has been stated previously, players are also charged at the gate for these finals.
The scheduling of fixtures is another bone of contention. As matches are only fixed 5-7 days before they are due to take place, it is impossible for players and management to plan holidays or events during the season without running the risk of missing an important game. You could go four or five weeks without playing and then have two fixtures in a week. It’s very unpredictable.
Walkovers are also a concern for players and while the league might argue that it isn’t their fault if a club fails to field a team, I would suggest that the manner in which the league is currently being run is pushing players away from soccer and leaving many clubs short-handed.
In total, four teams have withdrawn from the Premier Division during the course of the past three seasons.
In the 2016/17 season, Tralee club St Brendan’s Park, traditionally one of the strongest teams in the county, pulled out of the Premier A halfway through the campaign as they were struggling to fulfil fixtures. They were subsequently regraded to Division 2A, the fifth tier of Kerry soccer.
It’s staggering to think that a big town club like Park, who won the league as recently as 2011 and have an excellent underage set-up, could no longer field a team.
Rattoo Rovers, Mastergeeha and John Delaney’s old club Tralee Celtic have also been forced to withdraw from the top flight since 2018.
Tralee Dynamos, the most successful club in the history of the Kerry District League with 13 league titles, also struggled last year and ended up getting relegated, although they were later reinstated to the Premier A when Mastergeeha, who avoided relegation on the final day of the season, were voluntarily demoted to Division 2A.
A number of new teams have been formed in Kerry in the last few years and there are now 10 clubs in Tralee alone. Perhaps this goes some way towards explaining why traditionally bigger clubs have faltered over the past few years.
Most of these new senior teams have no underage structure to produce new players and no facilities of their own. The vast majority play all of their home games in Mounthawk Park.
Of the 39 clubs in Kerry’s six divisions, 17 of them call Mounthawk home. Including B and C teams, 19 of the 49 teams competing in the KDL play at the league’s flagship facility on the outskirts of Tralee.
Home teams are charged to rent the pitch (extra if they need the lights) and away players must pay €2 a head at the gate. If my calculations are correct, 148 league games will be played at Mounthawk Park this season.
Some people say that these Mounthawk teams, who are also disparagingly referred to as “pub teams”, have weakened the league but even if those people are right, the horse has already bolted. It’s not as though you can force them to disband now. That simply wouldn’t be fair.
These are all issues that have irked soccer players in Kerry for quite some time but despite some of them being raised at league meetings in the past, there appears to be no real appetite to tackle them as far as the powers that be are concerned.
Naturally enough, a lot of us are frustrated with the people at the wheel but I think we have to look at ourselves as players and ask if we have done enough to force change.
It’s one thing complaining down the pub, we’re all capable of that (I’m fairly good at it myself), but in reality that’s not going to make any difference. And in a functioning league, it shouldn’t take anything drastic to change the way things are being done. The KDL should be answerable to its clubs and clubs should be answerable to their players.
If senior players get together, even for a few minutes after training, have a chat and put down in writing whatever it is that they’re unhappy about, they can then pass this on to their clubs. You would hope and assume that the clubs would listen to their players and take their concerns seriously.
If the clubs communicate these issues to the league, and there is a consensus on certain issues (which I strongly believe there is), then surely the league would be left with no choice but to act.
At the moment league officials can hide behind the fact that they don’t know for certain what the players and the clubs want. If that excuse is taken away from them and they still fail to take action, then the league simply isn’t fit for purpose.
So I would challenge players to speak up and make your voices heard. There has been far too much silence for far too long.
Pic: Konrad Paprocki.