After a very successful first year, the Celtic Challenge returns for the second year with a new title sponsor - Bank of Ireland.
The Bank of Ireland Celtic Challenge is a national hurling development competition that celebrates mass participation and includes several exciting new initiatives in the game.
The competition, which is targeted at 16 and 17 year-old hurlers who are not sitting State Examinations this summer, will commence in May and conclude in June 2017. A total of 47 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.
There will be 1,400 players involved in a programme of 155 matches that take place over eight weeks starting on May 3rd.
Details of the competition and the new sponsors Bank of Ireland were unveiled at Croke Park earlier today by Aogán Ó Fearghail and Paudie O'Neill, Chairperson of the Hurling Development Committee.
The GAA President said: "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. We feel Bank of Ireland's support will help build on last year's success to push this competition and the promotion of hurling to another level. I wish everyone involved - most importantly the players - every success in the coming weeks and months in what is a most welcome addition to the GAA's stable of competitions."
Paudie O'Neill added: "The key point of the National Hurling Development Committee's three-year plan is providing a meaningful games programme. Historically, there's been a lot of work done on coaching and coach education, upskilling people. However, very rarely have these coaches had the opportunity to have their teams play in a meaningful programme of games. In the Bank of Ireland Celtic Challenge players and coaches have 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."
Also speaking at the announcement in Croke Park, Liam Sheedy, Director of Munster, Bank of Ireland said: "As Ireland's leading bank for students we are delighted and proud to sponsor the Bank of Ireland Celtic Challenge competition. Participation in the competition will give 1,400 young players the opportunity to upskill and further develop their game in what is the largest All County Hurling competition.
"We will be striving to ensure the Bank of Ireland Celtic Challenge continues to go from strength to strength in the next three years and we have wonderful GAA ambassadors in our workforce that will add significant value to the Partnership throughout the term.
"In Bank of Ireland we are committed to supporting communities across the country. Our 250 strong branch network combined with the GAA's large and devoted fan base provides an excellent fit for Bank of Ireland to connect with communities across the country."
In total there will be 21 county teams and 26 sides that represent regions from within counties such as West Waterford and Cork City.
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 preliminaries and the play-offs where again they will compete against teams of a similar level of ability.
The six divisional finals will be played on Saturday, June 24th at Netwatch Cullen Park, Carlow.
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.
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). The trophies and medals have been kindly sponsored by the Past Hurlers' Association.
Apart from the teams that reach the Finals, 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 47 teams and are sponsored by O'Neill's House of Sport.
The Bank of Ireland Celtic Challenge will provide players with a programme of pre-scheduled and meaningful games. In addition to this, the competition features a number of initiatives that are unique to the Bank of Ireland Celtic Challenge.
A feature of the competition will be for referees and match officials to meet with the teams prior to the game.
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.
An innovative scoring system will be in operation for the group stages that will award a bonus point for a team that scores two or more goals, while also awarding a losing bonus point for a defeated team that loses by a margin of five points or less.
The full list of the 47 teams taking part in the Celtic Challenge 2017 is as follows;