The Bank of Ireland Celtic Challenge is the national hurling development competition for 16 and 17-year old hurlers who are not sitting Leaving Certificate examinations this summer.
For 2018, a total of 41 teams from all 32 counties will take part across eight groups - that are determined on a geographical and developmental basis - and feature county as well as regional teams. In total there will be 26 county teams and 15 sides that represent regions from within counties such as Dublin Plunkett and Limerick Sarsfields.
In this, the third year of the competition, 1,250 players will be involved in a programme of 135 matches, which will commence in May and conclude in June 2018.
Details of the competition, which is sponsored by Bank of Ireland were unveiled at Croke Park earlier today by Uachtarán CLG John Horan and Jimmy O’Dwyer, Chairperson of the National Hurling Development Committee.
John Horan said: “The key purpose of the Bank of Ireland Celtic Challenge is to provide players with a meaningful games programme. Through the Bank of Ireland Celtic Challenge both players and coaches have an opportunity to develop as each team plays a minimum of five games, which take place on pre-scheduled dates in venues nationwide.”
Henry Shefflin, Head of Business and Franchise Development, Bank of Ireland added "As Ireland’s leading bank for students we are very proud to sponsor the Bank of Ireland Celtic Challenge competition. We will be striving to build on the success of last year where over 1,000 young players took part, in what is the largest All County Hurling competition. Our GAA ambassadors who were closely involved in the competition in 2017 will continue to offer significant value to the partnership as we aim to grow the competition.
“This unique competition gives 16 and 17 year olds around the four provinces the opportunity to upskill and further develop their game. At Bank of Ireland we are very committed to supporting today’s youth and we invite teenagers from every county in Ireland to take part in the Bank of Ireland Celtic Challenge 2018.”
After an initial round robin group phase of matches, teams will be graded on their performance and will then be assigned to one of five Divisions for the Preliminaries (Quarter-Finals) and the Play Offs (Semi-Finals) where again they will compete against teams of a similar level of ability.
The five Divisional Finals will be played on Saturday, June 30th 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) and Michael Feery (aged 40) - five 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.
In addition to this, 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 41 teams and are sponsored by O’Neill’s House of Sport.
The Bank of Ireland Celtic Challenge represents a new departure in Hurling with the inclusion of teams from all 32 Counties as well as 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.
Jimmy O’Dwyer, Chairperson of the Hurling Development Committee said: “Of utmost importance to the National Hurling Development Committee is that the players who participate enjoy and develop as players and as people through this experience. The feedback from players who participated in the competition 2017 proved that this is the case and we hope to continue improving the experience for all in 2018”
Players’ Feedback from 2017:
“It changed my opinion of hurling. I wouldn't be a great hurler and I was thinking of giving it up at the start of this year but Fermanagh were struggling for numbers so I came out and now I am mad for it.” – Fermanagh Player 2017
“The best thing was playing against teams I wouldn't normally get to play against and playing in facilities like Abbottstown and Netwatch Cullen Park was also very good.” – Down Player 2017
“Representing your county was one of the best feelings I have ever experienced and is the reason I want to make the next step to the county team.” – Galway Maroon Player 2017
“You get to be a part of something bigger than the club and to train with best from other clubs.” – Cork City Player 2017
The full list of the 41 teams taking part in the Celtic Challenge 2018 is: