Connacht hurling director Damien Coleman (fourth from left, back row) and Ulster hurling director Kevin Kelly (second from right, back row) have seen the benefits of the Electric Ireland Celtic Challenge competition.
Connacht hurling director Damien Coleman (fourth from left, back row) and Ulster hurling director Kevin Kelly (second from right, back row) have seen the benefits of the Electric Ireland Celtic Challenge competition.

Electric Ireland Celtic Challenge opening doors for hurling in all counties


By Kevin Egan

Over the course of the next two days, six teams will be crowned as the 2022 Electric Ireland Celtic Challenge winners. Like many competitions on the GAA calendar, the Celtic Challenge hurling series did not take place due to Covid in 2020, and had to be modified and regionalised in 2021.

However in 2022 it bounced back in style, and while a half a dozen teams will have cause for celebration this weekend, perhaps the most important thing that the competition offers to counties looking to promote and develop hurling, is its adaptability.

For large swathes of the country, Minor ‘B’ and ‘C’ competitions were ad hoc, often run on a straight knockout basis, with no set slot in the calendar to allow management and players to properly prepare and improve. Tomorrow, Mayo and Sligo will clash at Markievicz Park in the Corn Michael Feery final, and both counties will play their sixth competitive game of the Summer when they do so.

Some larger counties have a very wide playing base, and so they choose to use the Celtic Challenge as a way to expose more of their younger players to the experience of playing in a proper county set up, and occasionally also use the competition to give exposure to hurlers from parts of the county more traditionally associated with football. Limerick Sarsfields tomorrow will feature many players from West Limerick when they take on North Cork, and while there has been no shortage of hurling talent in North Cork down the years, many Rebel County followers will take tremendous heart from the success of West Cork in this year’s competition.

Then there are those counties in the middle tier, trying to keep pace. Several of those like to use the Celtic Challenge as an U-16 development opportunity, with a view towards improving their chances in the following season’s Electric Ireland All-Ireland minor series.

In 2021, Offaly contested and won a Corn William Robinson final, and this year, many of those hurlers were part of the county’s famous Leinster victory over Laois. Laois too, are also very much in the minor championship mix this year – but both of these midland rivals have Celtic Challenge finals this weekend too, illustrating the broadening player base in territories that are working incredibly hard to try and compete with the very best teams in Leinster.

Dara Flanagan of Fermanagh during the Electric Ireland Celtic Challenge Round 3 match between Leitrim and Fermanagh at Avant Money Páirc Seán Mac Diarmada, Carrick-on-Shannon in Leitrim. 
Dara Flanagan of Fermanagh during the Electric Ireland Celtic Challenge Round 3 match between Leitrim and Fermanagh at Avant Money Páirc Seán Mac Diarmada, Carrick-on-Shannon in Leitrim. 

Damien Coleman is Connacht GAA’s hurling director, and while he’s a Galway native, he understands that the challenges are very different in the rest of the province to those in Galway, who have been incredibly successful at minor level in recent years.

“I think first of all, our job in Games Development is to optimise playing standards and maximise participation levels” he said recently.

“For too long in the past, we in the GAA hadn’t recognised or shown huge interest in a hurler in a developing hurling county. You’d give them a minor fixture, a one off knockout. You couldn’t entice good volunteer coaches to be part of that set up.

“One of our GAA values is inclusivity. Why should a minor in Galway be much different than a hurler in a developing county who really has passion for the game. Why shouldn’t he be treated that way? It’s about giving equality and a meaningful games programme for the counties and I think that was the main philosophy in the 32-county set up of the Electric Ireland Celtic Challenge.”

Damien’s Ulster counterpart, Kevin Kelly, is a big fan of the structure that sees bigger counties enter multiple teams, and how that in turn adds to the allure of the event for those players from other counties, who now have the chance to take a notable scalp.

“For a developing county, if you get to come up against a regional side, to them it’s still playing a tier one county. It’s also giving the guys a tier one county a great chance. It’s very tight to get in to a minor panel, and even then, there’s no guarantee you walk in to a senior panel two years later. Here you’ve got a good structure, everybody gets to find their level.

“It’s been given the support and the recognition at a national level to encourage players to take part, to encourage county boards to take it seriously and give it proper support, and it’s sold well. This weekend there are six finals taking place and for every one of the eleven counties involved (Wicklow have two teams represented) this is a huge opportunity to win a national title.

“Electric Ireland’s support means that the Celtic Challenge has the same sponsor as the Minor All-Ireland and provincial competitions as well, so that’s a big boost, it helps give additional prestige to the events and shows that they are all part of one overall underage framework”.

Damien Coleman made another point about how he has noticed a huge increase in the interest in coach education at all levels, due to the success of competitions like this, and the Táin Óg league, all of which have created a proper games programme for hurlers in counties that have primarily been football-first counties.

“We are a games based association and we need to stay loyal to our origins and our philosophies and put on the games.” he said.

“These games development projects are very popular, and volunteers in clubs and counties want to be part of it, they see how their players are more enthused, more interested in developing their skills, and they see a pathway to competing at a much higher level. Because you put on the games, now there is increased demand for coaching education and all the other support we look to provide.

“It’s a great time to be involved, it’s very encouraging.”

For full details of all six finals, see match previews here: https://www.gaa.ie/hurling/news/electric-ireland-celtic-challenge-six-finals-down-for-decision/

Watch the Live Stream of the 2022 Electric Ireland Corn Tom Hogan Final - Wicklow Gold v Kildare Lily White HERE.

Watch the Live Stream of the 2022 Electric Ireland Corn Michael Hogan Final - Galway v Tipperary HERE.