By Damian Lawlor
THE six divisional finals of the 2017 Bank of Ireland Celtic Challenge will be played this Saturday (June 24th) at Netwatch Cullen Park, Carlow.
The Bank of Ireland Celtic Challenge is a national Under-17 hurling development competition that celebrates mass participation and includes several exciting new initiatives in the game.
Organisers have decided to stage Saturday’s six finals in Carlow to reflect the massive development work ongoing in the county which they have done by handing the highly regarded stadium a series of high profile matches to cater for.
Four of the six finals will be live streamed on GAA.ie for the closing stages of a competition that targets 16 and 17 year-old hurlers who are not sitting State Examinations this summer. It commenced in May and concludes this Saturday in Carlow.
A total of 47 teams from all 32 counties took part across eight groups which were determined on a geographical and developmental basis – and featured county as well as regional teams.
1,400 players were involved in a programme of 155 matches and now the finals will bring this year’s competition to an end at Netwatch Dr Cullen Park.
Saturday’s line-up will be a massive event for Carlow GAA with huge crowds expected to descend on the stadium throughout the day.
Carlow will face Limerick South-East in the Bank of Ireland Celtic Challenge Division 4 final in pursuit of claiming Corn Jerome O’Leary.
The Carlow players have been drawn from St. Mullins (2), Naomh Eoin (6), Mount Leinster Rangers (7), Burren Rangers (1), Ballinkillen (6), Carlow Town (1) and Bagenalstown (1).
GAA President Aogán Ó Fearghaíl says a huge day awaits all who travel to Netwatch Dr Cullen Park.
“The Celtic Challenge got off to a great start last year and with this success in mind it is great to welcome Bank of Ireland on board as title sponsor for the next three years,” he said. “I wish everyone involved in the finals – most importantly the players – every success in what is a most welcome addition to the GAA’s stable of competitions.”
Chairman of the Hurling Development Committee Paudie O’Neill has been working hard trying to help counties like Carlow make a permanent step-up from the Christy Ring to the Liam MacCarthy Cup and he says part of the HDC plan is to provide a meaningful games programme.
“Historically, there’s been a lot of work done on coaching and coach education, upskilling people,” said O’Neill. “However, very rarely have these coaches had the opportunity to have their teams play in a meaningful programme of games. In this competition players and coaches have had a chance to develop because each team plays a minimum of six games on pre-scheduled dates – in this regard the competition has been phenomenally successful.”
The cups have been named after six of the victims from among the 14 people shot and killed on Bloody Sunday at Croke Park on November 21st, 1920.
They 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). The trophies and medals have been kindly sponsored by the Past Hurlers’ Association.
Apart from the teams that reach the finals, all players are provided with a bespoke Celtic Challenge jersey as a memento of the competition. The jerseys were designed exclusively for each of the 47 teams and are sponsored by O’Neill’s House of Sport.
A key feature of finals day will be for referees and match officials to meet with the teams prior to the game – just like they have all through the group stages of the competition.
For each final there will also be a ‘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.
An interchange policy will be used instead of permanent substitutes which ensures every player on a squad can be involved in a game.
A huge crowd is expected to attend Saturdays finals. Admission is free for Under 16s and OAPs. The admission fee for everyone else is €5 and that fee includes a commemorative match programme.