Keith Greene (2nd from left) and Oisín McManus (3rd from left) have found that the Celtic Challenge has made their work as Games Promotion Officers in Ulster much easier.
Keith Greene (2nd from left) and Oisín McManus (3rd from left) have found that the Celtic Challenge has made their work as Games Promotion Officers in Ulster much easier.

Electric Ireland Celtic Challenge changing the hurling landscape


For some counties that are already very competitive in the Electric Ireland All-Ireland minor hurling championships, the Electric Ireland Celtic Challenge has been a great way to expose a greater number of players to intercounty competition.

However for some counties, where the existing competitions simply didn’t serve their need to try and make a foothold in areas where a smaller number of clubs play and promote hurling, it has been completely transformative.

Keith Greene is currently a Games Promotion Officer working in Cavan, while his colleague Oisín MacManus, when he’s not lining out for his native Down, fills the same role across Monaghan and South Armagh. When it comes to selling hurling to young players in traditionally footballing heartlands, they’ve been delighted to be able to build their season around the Electric Ireland Celtic Challenge.

“There used to be the odd Ulster ‘C’ competition, it would be one game or two games, but it was almost a token gesture” says Keith.

“It was as if it was a case of here’s a game for ye, almost as if it was to tick a box. But this is a completely changed structure, you’ve a competition in place, everything’s there for you”.

For MacManus, who himself is no stranger to intercounty hurling, it has given those involved something very tangible to offer to players in Monaghan.

“The simplest way I can put it is that it’s treated like a proper county minor setup” he explains.

“In Monaghan the senior management team take the Celtic Challenge team, so you’re getting the same training as the seniors, and that’s the kind of thing that entices to the boys to think to themselves that if I can do well here, then I’ll get looked at for the seniors in a few years. And the seniors are going well in the Lory Meaghar at the moment so there’s seeing good things happening in Monaghan hurling generally, and the Celtic Challenge lads can see that link”.

For teams like Cavan and Monaghan, who might previously have had a one-off game against similar counties in Ulster, the unique structure of the Celtic Challenge opens up a world of new potential opponents. Stronger counties field multiple teams, or perhaps will field teams from areas that are more usually associated with football, such as West Limerick.

Both counties exited the Corn Tom Hogan at the quarter-final stage last weekend, Cavan losing out in a thriller to Donegal, 4-13 to 3-11, while Monaghan scored five goals but still came up short against the Kildare Lily Whites. These quarter-finals were played at the end of a three-game group stage, and Oisín explains how there is simply no substitute for the playing meaningful championship games, and the positive feeling that players take from showcasing their skills in that environment.

“In our job you’re trying to raise standards across the board, down through U-15 and U-13, in terms of being able to execute all the skills at a good speed and with the right technique. If you’re good at something you’ll do more of it, you’ll feel you’re getting the hang of it.

The 2022 Monaghan Celtic Challenge team.
The 2022 Monaghan Celtic Challenge team.

“But ultimately, players are competitive at every level and it’s only when they see those skills working out for themselves in games, the pressure is on from an opponent and they’re still able to pick their score, they’re still able to get their pass away. Now there is a pathway there, if you do well in the 13s academy squad you’ll get to move up to the 15s academy squad, then that goes on to the Celtic Challenge, and suddenly then you’re wearing your county jersey in a competition that is recognised all across Ireland, a competition that players from Limerick, Cork and Kilkenny all take part in.

“When they’ve come through that and they’ve had that experience, those players are a lot more likely to keep going on up to U-20 and senior”.

On paper, Keith has one of the toughest jobs in the GAA, promoting hurling in a county that for many years, didn’t even field a senior team. However he freely admits that a remarkable turnaround is well underway, and he’s now pushing an open door in the Breffni County.

“At all different age groups there’s six different clubs, you have Woodford Gaels that don’t have a senior team, other clubs might come with a team at different age groups depending on their numbers, and now Cavan Gaels are fielding an U-13 team which is great to see as well. Then at the other end of the scale you have Pearse Óg and Mullahoran, who have senior but no underage, which is strange. But they feed into each other”.

Having the allure of a proper county competition has also added to the prestige of hurling in a Cavan jersey, where once it was a case of walking onto a county team by sheer virtue of playing the game at club level.

“It was nearly a case of c’mere, do you want to come in? But it’s gone away from that now, the Lory Meaghar last year, getting to the final, really brought it on, and the Celtic Challenge is massive for that.

“From the start we struggled to get numbers, but then everybody saw how good it was, they wanted to get in and get on the panel. We got the final in 2017, we got to the final last year and won it, and this year every hurler was coming, they wanted to be part of that panel, they knew this was a great competition, and that Cavan hurling, like every other team taking part, was going to put their shoulder to the wheel and make sure we put our best foot forward in it.

“It didn’t work out for us against Donegal, but the lads came on in leaps and bounds and they’ve gone back to their clubs, ready to push on into the adult careers with a hugely positive experience behind them” he said.

This weekend there are ten Electric Ireland Celtic Challenge semi-final contests taking place all across the four provinces. For details of these fixtures, see https://www.gaa.ie/celticchallenge/fixtures