Action from this year's Celtic Challenge clash of Longford and Monaghan.
Action from this year's Celtic Challenge clash of Longford and Monaghan. 

McCarthy hails creative approach of Celtic Challenge


By John Harrington

Another important chapter in the evolving success story of the Celtic Challenge National Hurling Development Competition will take place this weekend when the 2021 Finals are played.

A few short months ago such a prospect seemed slim due to Covid-19 restrictions and a condensed playing calendar, but, where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Games development staff across the country have done Trojan work to ensure the competition could proceed in a slightly reduced format compared to previous years.

Usually, teams of 16 and 17-year-olds from 32 counties compete with every team guaranteed a minimum of five matches.

This year, 24 teams from 21 counties will play three matches which is still a fine achievement considering the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

GAA President, Larry McCarthy, believes the sort of creative thinking that has gone into the Celtic Challenge’s competition structure is what’s required to continue growing the game of hurling.

“It's important to give hurling in every county as much support as we can and the Celtic Challenge has been a really creative way of doing that in so much as its not confined to just one team from one county,” McCarthy told GAA.ie

“Offaly, for example, have two teams in it so you're immediately giving twice as many players the opportunity to get meaningful matches.

“We have to be creative in this way to grow hurling and we're seeing benefits from taking that approach. I attended a match in the South Ulster Junior Hurling Development League recently in Omagh where you had Four Masters from Donegal playing St. Enda's from Omagh.

“It's a cross-county competition with teams from Cavan, Monaghan, and Fermanagh as well and that's the type of creative approach we need to have to give fellas matches at their own level which brings hurling along.

“That's what the Celtic Challenge does as well, and it also has the status of being a national competition where young hurlers can represent their county in an All-Ireland Championship which gives everyone a boost.

“These young players will then go back to their clubs and help raise the standards there too.”

Action from this year's Celtic Challenge clash of Laois and Carlow.
Action from this year's Celtic Challenge clash of Laois and Carlow.

The creative approach that McCarthy is a fan of has also been key to another hurling success story, the Táin Óg League.

One of the greatest impediments to growing the game of hurling is the difficulty in ensuring that clubs in counties where there are relatively few clubs have enough meaningful matches.

The Táin Óg League has addressed this issue very successfully by dissolving county boundaries to increase the pool of clubs of a similar standard who can play one another in a worthwhile competition.

“There's a lot of counties where hurling can be further developed and we can only do that by giving players more games,” says McCarthy.

“And if they can't get enough games in their own county then logically you go outside the county.

“Perhaps you can play clubs in neighbouring counties or even go a little bit further, but we have to be creative in terms of giving them those opportunities to continue to play and give them regular games and that means being creative with the competition structures.

“We have to grow hurling organically. It's a fact that there's not a lot of interest in some counties in hurling. But, where it does exist, we have to encourage it and that's what we're doing with these competitions.

“The measure of the success of these competitions will be that growing numbers of people are playing the game and enjoying it at club level.”

Celtic Challenge Cup Finals

Friday July 23

Corn William Robinson Final

Offaly Green v Westmeath, TEG Cusack Park, 7.30pm.

Saturday, July 24

Corn Michael Hogan Final

Derry v Wicklow, Abbotstown, 6.00pm

Corn John Scott Final

Tyrone v Roscommon, Kinawley, 4.30pm.

Corn Jerome O’Leary Final

Laois v Kildare Cadets, O’Moore Park, Laois, 12.00pm.

Corn Michael Feery Final

Armagh v Longford, Latton, 6.30pm.

Corn Tom Hogan Final

Cavan v Louth, Abbottstown, 4pm

Consolation Finals

Antrim v Sligo, Dungiven, 12.00pm

Donegal v Mayo, Scarden, Sligo, 2.00pm

Kildare Lillies v Offaly Gold, Hawkfield, Newbridge, 3.00pm

Carlow v Meath, Fenagh, Carlow, 12.00pm

Leitrim v Meath Royals, Longford Slashers GAA, 2.00pm

Fermanagh v Monaghan, Ballyconnell, 12.00pm.