Bank of Ireland had a pretty special team meeting at Croke Park yesterday with four of its management, who happen to play or coach a bit of hurling too, coming together to launch and meet with the players taking part in the 4th annual Bank of Ireland Celtic Challenge.
Henry Shefflin, Podge Collins, Seamus Callanan and Liam Sheedy, pictured above with some of the players, gave some coaching and took part in a Q and A session with a selection of the 1,300 16 and 17-year-olds not on an inter-county team who will play on one of 44 teams drawn from all 32 counties.
They will take part in a programme of 138 matches, which will commence in May and conclude in June 2019 with all the finals taking place at a single venue.
Cork, Clare, Dublin, Galway, Kilkenny, Kildare, Tipperary and Wicklow have multiple teams with one each from every other county.
“The Bank of Ireland Celtic Challenge is a key avenue for the growth and promotion of Hurling nationwide,” said GAA President John Horan.
“The competition has been hugely successful in providing players with a meaningful programme of games that helps them to develop their skills within a structure that encourages respect and learning.”
“The success of the competition is evidenced by the fact that this year Wicklow will be entering two teams – Wicklow Blue and Wicklow Gold – to compete in the competition.”
A survey of almost 300 of those who took part last year revealed that the top five reasons for enjoying it were the ability to play competitive games, the chance to play against teams they would not otherwise get a chance against, the friendships they built up, the jerseys provided by O’Neills and the quality of coaching.
“At Bank of Ireland we are very committed to supporting today’s youth to be inspired to reach their full potential,” added Liam Sheedy, Munster Provincial Director for the Bank and Tipperaray Senior Hurling Manager.
“This is our third year of sponsoring this really unique competition and I am thrilled to see it grow once again this year.”
“I am very passionate about the growth of hurling in this country – if we want to deliver increased participation then it’s not just the traditional hurling strongholds we need to focus on but equally those counties who are working so hard to grow the wonderful game of Hurling.”
“The Bank of Ireland Celtic Challenge is certainly playing its part in this regard which I am absolutely delighted with.”
All players will be provided with a bespoke Celtic Challenge jersey as a memento of the competition. The jerseys have been designed exclusively for each of the 44 teams and are sponsored by O’Neill’s House of Sport.
After an initial round-robin group phase of matches, teams will be graded on their performance and will then be assigned to one of six Divisions for the Quarter-Finals and Semi-Finals where again they will compete against teams of a similar level of ability.
The six Divisional Finals will be played on Saturday, June 29th at Bord na Móna O’Connor Park in Tullamore. The cups have been dedicated to the memory of Michael Hogan (age 24), John William Scott (age 14), William Robinson (age 11), Jerome O’Leary (age 10), Michael Feery (aged 40) and Tom Hogan (aged 21) – six of the victims from among the 14 people shot and killed on Bloody Sunday at Croke Park on November 21st, 1920. The trophies and medals have been kindly sponsored by the Past Hurlers’ Association.
The tournament will have a number of unique respect initiatives including a ‘Pre-Match Talk’ by the Referee and the Best and Fairest Award’ that will see referees after every match choose one player from each team selected on the basis of their skill level as well as the respect they showed to the playing rules, match officials and their fellow players.
Join us tomorrow when we will reveal a new broadcast partnership around the tournament as well.