The first thing to say is that this year's Minor County Championship will be appreciably different from that of previous years, even allowing for the changes brought about by the pandemic.
This year's competition will be a Under 17 Championship, while the County League remains Under 18 until next year, when it too will change.
Central Council of the GAA have been pushing hard for a transition to odd ages (i.e. U17, U15, U13 as opposed to U18, U16, U14, and U12) for several years now. Every county has mooted this and, it would be fair to say, it's not exactly been welcomed with open arms by everybody directly involved at club or district level.
I can appreciate the idea of Under 17s not being allowed to play senior football. I fully agree with the dangers of physical disparity and the risk of burnout for elite players at that age, but I think that a Under 18 minor grade provides games for both 17 and 18 year olds without disrupting any reasonable senior schedule (I think the word 'reasonable' might be the GAA's problem there).
I've watched Kerry Under 17 teams in action in the inter-county minor football championship. Good teams, arguable even great teams. They lost a semi-final in 2017 and 2019 and won an All Ireland in 2018. There was great football, but I still think they are too young for that kind of pressure and exposure.
Under 18s are looking at getting driving licenses, voting, and jobs or college courses. Under 17s, with all respect, are quite rightly enjoying their schooldays, and hoping that they will get into a nightclub on Saturday night.
It's no longer a stepping stone to senior because now most of them won't be making that grade for two years at the very least. How many Under 18s, apart from a handful of exceptional county minors, have you seen in the recent club championships?
Previously, both Under 18s and Under 17s were looking to play football, but as a direct result of this change, either a Under 18 is making his club's senior team or he won't be playing much football. It doesn't make a lot of sense to me.
The biggest drop-out rate in sport occurs in boys between 18 and 23 years of age and the dropout rate in GAA is higher than in most other sports (mind you, that's probably because the level of underage participation in GAA is so much higher than in other sports). That drop-out rate is going to increase.
To be quite blunt about it, I believe that this change is all about keeping the coffers ringing at inter-county level and is simply terrible for anyone trying to build teams at club level, but there we go; it's the decision that has been made and Kerry, like everyone else, just has to go along with it.
Our County Minor Championship is now based on the Under 17 age group and starts next Monday, August 3, with all games starting at 6pm.
Killarney Legion and Firies have byes in the opening rounds.
Feale Rangers v Dr Crokes
Feale Rangers have been struggling to make an impact at Under 16 level in recent years. Normally a district side at home to a club team would be favourites but this one could be different. Dr. Crokes can call on the likes of Cian McMahon, Harry Byrne, Liam Randles and Alex Hennigan, and they could well come out of this one into a semi-final.
St Brendan's Board v St. Kierans
This one will be very tight. St. Brendans have some great players to call on (Na Gaeil in particular have been spectacular in recent years) and have featured in recent success by Tralee CBS. However, St. Kierans will be a strong team themselves. Players like Conor Wilkinson, Donal Daly, John Curtin, Jamie O'Sullivan and Sean Cronin stood out for Castleisland District last year at U16 and will be looking to go a step further.
East Kerry v Kenmare
East Kerry have been completely dominant in recent years. Given the fact that they include Eoghan Ruadh, who won last year's Under 16 county championship (they beat the East Kerry district side in a tight semi-final) that doesn't look like changing any time soon.
William Casey, Dara O'Callaghan, Michael Mullane, the Bowlers Kevin and Tommy, Luke Crowley, Dylan Roche, Cian Doyle,.....Kenmare are a good side, but have a very unlucky draw here to meet the champions on their home ground.
Laune Rangers v Mid Kerry
This will be a derby cracker! Laune Rangers have been a top club side in recent years and they can call on the likes of Jake and Matt Reenstierna, Darragh Mangan, Callum Moriarty, Jack O'Sullivan, and especially Eoghan Hassett. Mid Kerry won last year's Under 16 Championship (with Laune Rangers on board) and can call on Diarmuid McGillicuddy, Keith Evans, Cillian Burke, Mikey Moriarty, Kieran Dennehy, and Anthony Kelliher. I'll give Laune Rangers a nod, but only very, very tentatively!
Shannon Rangers v West Kerry
West Kerry should come away with a win here. They reached a Plate Final last year and players like Jimmy Ó Fiannachta, Ronán Ó Beaglaíoch, Tomás Ó Dónaill, Alain Beaujouain (who starred in Castlegregory's run to a Munster Final), Tomás Ó Sé, and Cormac Ó Cineéide should make the difference.
South Kerry v Austin Stacks
Austin Stacks won last year's Under 16 Division 1 Final against Killarney Legion but South Kerry have seen a big surge in underage football in the last two years, thanks largely to good work by GDAs and through the school as well as a big push at club level.
It's no secret that depopulation has hit South Kerry hard and Austin Stacks have been the best underage club in Kerry for the past fifty years (trust me, no-one else even comes close to the amount of titles they have won), but I think this one could be a real banana skin for the black and amber.