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GAA launches new underage hurling competition

The Celtic Challenge is part of the organisation’s plans to increase participation in the sport.

From left: Clare's David McInerney;  Paudie Ó Néill, chairman of the Hurling Development Committee; Aogán Ó Fearghail, GAA president  and Antrim hurler Neal McAuley,
From left: Clare's David McInerney; Paudie Ó Néill, chairman of the Hurling Development Committee; Aogán Ó Fearghail, GAA president and Antrim hurler Neal McAuley,
Image: Matt Browne/SPORTSFILE

THE GAA WILL launch a new underage hurling competition next year, The Celtic Challenge, in an aim to strengthen the game outside of the sport’s traditional strongholds.

The move comes as part of the Hurling Development Action Plan 2015-2018 which also suggests reforming the All-Ireland Minor A Hurling Championship, introducing coaching roadshows and revamping the Hurling Mentor Programme.

The Celtic Challenge is a competition for 16 and 17-year-olds not doing state examinations and is the result of a restructure of Minor B and C Championships. It will run in May and June, starting next year, and feature 38 teams from all 32 counties.

Croke Park’s director of games, Pat Daly, is focused on increasing participation in the sport across the board before considering talk of bridging the gap at the elite level, where Kilkenny, Tipperary and Cork have dominated the roll of honour for so long.

“We’re fairly clear about the numbers we want. We want to increase the numbers. We’re very clear about the processes,” Daly said at the plan’s launch.

And Daly concedes that the lower-tier competitions needed to be re-branded, to start afresh and build something more appealing and competitive for young hurlers.

“There’s no point in talking about numbers and having the B and C competitions we currently have because there’s no future there.

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Pat Daly Pat Daly, GAA director of games research and development. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

“Kids don’t want to play in those kind of competitions, they have to be properly promoted, there has to be a big social media programme around it. It doesn’t necessarily matter what division you’re playing in as long as they’re properly promoted.

“What we’re talking about doing is having good competitive outlets, ensuring they’re properly promoted and that they’re meaningful and that there’s a desire among the young lads to play them.”

Poor structures

Daly believes that a lot of the issues with the adult game can be traced back to poor structures at underage level.

“We’re finding at under-21 that there are problems and is that surprising on the back of what we have at minor and the number of games that are played at minor? It’s not really.

“So I think there’s a degree of realism about this. We’re talking about a competition with all 32 counties for the first time ever, we’re talking about a programme of games, who, when and where.

“I think that’s a watershed development by any stretch of the imagination.”

Another part of the plan will see the GAA investigate the use of synthetic and hybrid synthetic-wood hurleys as ash die-back disease continues to affect the supply of ash.

There are also plans to standardise sliotars and to insert a computer chip inside every approved ball so that it could be verified by scanning it with a smartphone. 

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