Ross County chief executive Steven Ferguson says the Staggies had no option but to withdraw their colts team from this season’s SPFL Trust Trophy.
County and Premiership rivals Livingston have both pulled their colts teams out of the competition, with League Two side Stirling Albion advancing to the second round at the expense of the Dingwall outfit.
Ferguson says the age restrictions for colts teams in the competition were prohibitive to the Staggies due to a lack of available under-21 players.
Although the likes of Matthew Wright, Ben Williamson, Adam Mackinnon, Logan Ross and Ryan MacLeman are on the fringes of County’s first team, the absence of reserve league football since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic has left them short of other selection options at that level.
With the bulk of County’s under-18s squad still at school, Ferguson says it was not possible to make up a side to compete in the tournament.
Ferguson said: “To have a full colts team in Covid times, when we have not been playing, has been difficult.
“Livingston are in the same boat as ourselves. There are city clubs in the Premiership with bigger academies than ourselves that carry a lot of players. It’s not an issue for them.
“We have four or five younger ones in the group but to field a team of under-21s was impossible for us to do.
“We don’t have enough under-21 players to do it. Due to Covid we didn’t carry a development squad because there was nowhere for them to play. There’s no reserve league.
“If we were stockpiling players it wouldn’t be the right thing to do, for a group of under-21s to play only in the Challenge Cup.
“There will be under-18s but we are talking about schoolkids who are 15 or 16. The ones who are older we have got in full-time, and we will be putting them out on loan when we bring in the players we need.”
With County running a particularly young under-18s squad this term, Ferguson hopes the club can benefit from giving them time to emerge through the youth ranks.
Former Staggies co-manager Ferguson added: “We have looked at having a sustainable model. The academy has been run in a skeleton kind of way because of Covid, which has had a knock-on effect to our under-18s team.
“We had a vision for that, but it’s a really young under-18s team. We would still be talking about schoolkids who are not full time.
“We have to look at the welfare of the kids. The academy has been shut so they have not been training. Club Academy Scotland is in the middle of a six-week shutdown, so it’s not even like they are playing any games.
“They are on their school holidays, but they would not be playing against people their age – it’s a man’s competition.
“We are in that transition period.”
Ferguson is confident County’s youth academy will be able to flourish again in the coming months, having been affected by a number of lockdowns caused by the pandemic.
He added: “We have done exceptionally well. When we were in the lockdown period everything was being done at home, it was individual programmes.
“Gordon Duff along with his team did a fantastic job in making sure we were still engaging with the kids and still having contact time with them.
“We picked four or five games up when we were allowed to again, and then it came into the period where it shut down because of the school holidays.
“Just as we were getting going again, it shut down again.
“We are not scheduled to play another academy game until about three weeks’ time.
“We are hoping it will be a bit more back to normal soon. Every club will be the same.
“The SFA are reviewing the period between 2022 and 2025. The academy is a big part of our structure at the football club.”