Killeen hails Electric Ireland Celtic Challenge for launching Galway career
Among the 19 Electric Ireland Celtic Challenge quarter-final fixtures down for decision this weekend is one that will always have a special place in the heart of current Galway senior hurler Tiernan Killeen.
Galway will play host to Cork East in one of four Corn Michael Hogan quarter-finals, and it was three years ago this Summer that Killeen’s Celtic Challenge summer culminated in a remarkable final between Galway Maroon and North Cork at O’Connor Park in Tullamore. The Rebel County side took a five-point lead into the dressing room that day, but Killeen and his colleagues produced a remarkable turnaround to win by double scores, 4-24 to 2-12.
Killeen played at centre back that day, and he retains plenty of fond memories of his first experience of winning a national title in his county colours.
“We played Cork in Tullamore and it was an unbelievable day, 20 degrees and scorching, it was lovely. We were in the middle of the day, the sun was at its hottest, and it went on all day, there was around three more finals after ours” recalls the Loughrea player.
“It was so well ran, it was taken so seriously, you could see there were so many matches on and every team wanted to take their chance, they were treating it like it was an All-Ireland final. It was a really enjoyable day, really competitive, the standard was so high, so it was very good”.
Even as the final whistle sounded, Killeen couldn’t have imagined the road that he was about to go down.
Less than two months later, he would score two points from wing forward for Galway in their All-Ireland minor final win against Kilkenny. In 2020, he would win a second All-Ireland minor title and earn his spot on the Electric Ireland Minor Hurling Team of the Year.
Now, in 2022, Killeen is part of Henry Shefflin’s senior panel and has already seen action in this year’s Leinster championship. Without the Celtic Challenge, he doesn’t know if any of this would have been possible.
“I was 16, so I was young. I had tried out for the Galway minor panel and didn’t make the first 30. Brian Hanley was the minor manager at the time, it was his first year, and basically he felt that I needed more experience and that Celtic Challenge was such a high level that he said the best way to go was to take the few weeks to be part of it.
“That’s one of the really big positives about it, it’s ran so well that it only takes a few weeks, it’s game after game week-on-week and then hopefully, a final. Brian decided that I needed the experience at my age and I was to go with them for the few weeks.
“Obviously you don’t want to leave the minors, of course you don’t, but he left us under no illusion, perform well in the Celtic Challenge and I’d be in with a shout of getting back on the minor squad. We played five or six games including the final, I must have performed well, because Brian had people at the matches or was at them himself, and the Celtic Challenge management were also reporting back to Brian.
“After the Celtic Challenge final against North Cork I was straight back into county minor training the day after, there was no celebration, it was just straight back into the minor set up” he said.
Even in 2019, when the Celtic Challenge was still just three years old, it had already become part of the landscape for young hurlers all across Ireland. In some counties, it was their de facto All-Ireland championship, while in places like Cork, Dublin and of course Galway, it was a way for players to stand out in a very crowded local underage scene.
“My brother, Caimin, is just two years older than me and he was involved in the first year of it” recalls Tiernan.
“Even in that two years it had become hugely established, anyone involved in it saw it as a prestigious competition in its own right, even aside from putting yourself in the shop window”.
“Here in Galway, between the three Celtic Challenge panels and the county minor panel itself, there were over 100 players there that got the opportunity to prove themselves, and that’s why the standard was so high.
“Above all though, it’s still playing for your county. It’s such an advantage because if you’re with the county minors, you spend most of your time just training, but I got to play so many matches as well as training, which is much more beneficial” he concluded.
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