Westmeath defender Tommy Gallagher is hoping to help land more hurling silverware for his county this weekend.

Last Saturday night, Gallagher was a key part of a Westmeath defence that kept tabs on Kerry's attacking talent Shane Conway and the Boyles, Mikey and Padraig.

A resolute team display helped the county win their first Joe McDonagh Cup title after plenty of past heartbreak in the competition.

On Friday, Gallagher, his senior hurling team-mate Noel Conaty, Allan Devine and David Cornally are in charge of the Westmeath side who play Offaly Green in the Corn William Robinson final of the Celtic Challenge (the GAA’s U-17 developmental hurling series).

"It would be huge for Westmeath if we could win a second cup over the course of a week," he says.

"I think the younger lads we have on this team, and they are aged 15 and 16, will have seen us play in Croke Park last weekend and before that take on big teams like Tipp and Limerick in the league, and they might aspire to that too.

"From that point of view the Celtic challenge has allowed us to give inter-county exposure to many lads. We played Kildare and used 29 players in that first game and obviously lads are going to benefit from that.

"We have 36 on our panel and we got to use 31 over the course of the campaign so far. It’s been great up to this point and to win at the weekend would be even better."

Gallagher says the key challenge for the Westmeath seniors now is to cement their place in the Leinster championship over the coming years.

"Psychologically, as a hurler in Westmeath, you want to play against the best teams and everyone wants to play in the Leinster Championship," he says.

"It’s great to be up there. But we want to stay there now.

"Counties have been up and down and we want to get some consistency and help promote hurling across the county. Again, with the young lads seeing us play it will help the game spread."

"We need more senior clubs; we only have five or six and we need about 10"

Westmeath is known for its hurling stronghold, with a clutch of clubs heavily devoted to the game, but Gallagher, a games development administrator for Westmeath GAA, says the love of the sport is starting to spread.

"There is definitely a push in the south of the county, with clubs like Fr Daltons and Southern Gaels going well at underage.

"We need more senior clubs; we only have five or six and we need about 10."

The tough defender, who fought his way back into the side after a two-year absence with a cruciate injury, says that hurling’s tiered system has offered the county a real and sustainable chance of progress.

"I have been frustrated at times, certainly in losing past McDonagh Cup finals, but you have to win these cups if you are to rise up.

"We finally got it right last weekend, but would we have got there if the other cups, the Christy Ring, Lory Meagher and Nicky Rackard Cups weren’t there?

"These competitions give lads the chance to play at Croke Park."

On that note, Gallagher would love to see the McDonagh Cup final played as a curtain-raiser to the All-Ireland senior final.

"We have lads in Westmeath who are good enough for our county team but don’t play. Can you imagine the carrot of playing in front of 82,000 people on the All-Ireland final day? Everyone would want that."

For now, the prospect of helping their young hurlers land silverware looms – even though at one stage it was highly unlikely the Celtic Challenge would take place.

With the pandemic ongoing and no sponsor in place, it would have meant no program of games for the nine counties that have no other minor involvement.

Eventually, 24 teams were registered (excluding the Tier 1 counties).

"We managed to put six groups together," says national hurling development manager Martin Fogarty.

"All teams played quarter-finals and the results of these allowed us to grade them six semi-finals. The winners advanced to play the finals this weekend while all the losers will play consolation games for Celtic Challenge medals.

"All in all, we are very happy that 24 teams are all getting three games each and every team has ended up in either a cup proper final or a consolation final. That is 36 games which is 36 more games than were played last year. While the bells and whistles, launch days, final days with brass bands and all of that are missing, the really important element is there which is the games.

"Players are delighted to be playing, coaches are delighted to be coaching so everyone is happy. We have 12 finals in total this weekend and that’s huge for hurling," he added.