Liam Sheedy: 'It is great for the developing counties'
By Cian O’Connell
The Bank of Ireland Celtic Challenge is all about raising standards and trying to help youngsters to improve.
There is joy as games arrive thick and fast with former Tipperary manager Liam Sheedy acknowledging the growth and popularity of the tournament.
“Yeah, definitely, it is year three of the Celtic Challenge, for Bank of Ireland it is our second year to be involved with the competition,” Sheedy, Provincial Director with Bank of Ireland, admits.
“It is a competition that is going from strength to strength, 32 counties, nearly 1,300 players, 135 matches says it all really.
“It is great for the developing counties, it gives them a chance to get five great games and they eventually find their level in terms of the groups they finish up in which is a very, very good structure.”
Sheedy is adamant that the format of the Celtic Challenge assists teams throughout the land. “I think also it is worth noting developmental counties and counties looking to progress they love to get the chance to play against the Tipperarys and the Galways and the Corks and all the others.
“The fact that they are playing a portion of them counties means the match ups are very good and we saw Antrim beating a portion of Cork last year which is very, very good and very, very encouraging.
“It has been a really strong competition and an impression can be made on everyone, but certainly on 17 year olds you can make a really good impression, it is a really good competition where they get loads of games.
“The gear is good and the training is structured, but it is more about the matches than the training. There is a lot of things to like about the Celtic Challenge. Certainly from a Bank of Ireland perspective we are delighted to be partnering with the GAA on it.”
Sheedy acknowledges that the true benefit of the Celtic Challenge mightn’t be fully visible for a few years when these emerging players attempt to break into senior panels.
“Yeah, definitely and the challenge for all counties is to try to keep them,” Sheedy adds. “At 17 years of age numerous things come so making a really good impression with a really good competition at that age group can have a really good benefit in terms of their longevity and our ability as an organisation to retain the up and coming talent.
“Certainly I attended the finals last year in Cullen Park and to see the skill levels of players that weren't from traditional counties, just to see they would not be out of place on any team.
“That gives us great hope for the future and the fact that all 32 counties are involved really is something that is going to hopefully go from strength to strength.”
On the eve of the Allianz Hurling League Sheedy believes that another intriguing inter-county campaign beckons during an exciting stint for the sport.
“It is, obviously I think we will get a very competitive League,” Sheedy states. “In Division 1A and Division 1B there will be some great matches and we probably got a taste of it with the Walsh Cup last weekend with the unique finish to get the winner.
“You had 3,500 people down in Nowlan Park, I think there is an appetite for GAA activity now and they will be looking forward to the National Leagues. You have some great matches coming on Sunday and then you are building nicely into a unique Munster and Leinster Hurling Championship.
“Obviously you have that coming and the next six down, you'd love to have 16 teams ultimately competing for the Liam MacCarthy. To have those six teams getting a really competitive Joe McDonagh Cup shouldn't go unnoticed either.
“So it is certainly set up for an exciting few weeks in terms of the League campaign and it is all building nicely into the Championships and Joe McDonagh competition.”
In 2018 Sheedy is working as an advisor for the Antrim management of Terence ‘Sambo’ McNaughton and Dominic McKinley.
“My involvement is limited to be honest, but I get up there two times or so a month,” Sheedy remarks. “Certainly the passion that exists in that county for hurling is absolutely the same as it is in the heartland of hurling in any county.
“In all fairness they are training very hard, they are somewhat isolated up there in the peninsula, but it doesn't stop them from working hard.
“Obviously they have got a baptism of fire going out to play the All Ireland champions on Sunday, but certainly I have been hugely impressed by the attitude and effort they have put in. There is a level they are at and a level they are trying to get to.
“That will only happen over time, but certainly the lads involved with them, the management team, are very committed.
“They are working very hard up there and competing with the All Ireland champions mightn't be the level they are at, but they can use the League campaign to improve themselves, to see if they can get themselves ready for the Joe McDonagh later down the line.”