DONIE O’DONOVAN from Bandon and Kevin Byrne of East Cork intend to make little of the oft-expressed modern contention that golf is a young man’s game when they line out for their clubs in the semi-finals of the Bulmers Barton Shield and Irish Junior Cup at Castlebar today.
The 52-year-old O’Donovan is a key member of the Bandon team tackling Ulster champions Dunmurry in the Barton Shield while Byrne, seven years his senior, hopes to maintain an outstanding record in the Junior Cup as East Cork take on Naas.
O’Donovan certainly has a proud record in the Barton Shield, given that he was a member of the only other Bandon team to capture the Munster pennant back in 1977.
Unfortunately, his talented 22-year-old son Brian is unavailable today because he was required for interviews at PGA headquarters at The Belfry yesterday and today, prior to taking up a position as assistant professional at Douglas Golf Club.
His place goes to Irish Seniors international John Carroll although team captain Denis O’Brien revealed last night that O’Donovan will come into the side should they reach tomorrow’s final and will also be called up for the Senior Cup semi-finals on Friday.
Bandon face formidable opposition from Dunmurry, who have come out of the Ulster section for the first time. They are powered by former South of Ireland champion Darren Crowe and his brother Stephen and certainly the side looked the part when beating Malone and Warrenpoint in the semi-finals and final up north.
The other Barton Shield semi-final involves Headfort, Leinster champions for the first time and powered by interprovincial Rory McNamara, and Galway, the only club in the last four to have previously claimed the title.
Galway did so in 1957, ‘92. ‘99 and ‘07 and are undoubtedly the most experienced of the four semi-finalists. They include internationals Eddie McCormack and Joe Lyons and enjoy an advantage in course knowledge as all the Connacht finals were staged at Castlebar. The Barton Shield final is scheduled for tomorrow morning.
East Cork travel to the closing stages of a national event for the first time with high hopes of going all the way in the Junior Cup. Team manager Francis Maher is already on a high after the victory of his native Tipperary in the All-Ireland hurling championship and now looks to a very well balanced squad to complete a notable double.
Once again, the ageless Kevin Byrne, a former star hurler with the Erin’s Own club, may well be a key man. Not far short of his 60th birthday, he was the hero of the club’s wins in the provincial semi-finals and final at Castletroy against Doneraile and Dungarvan, getting home on the 17th and 18th greens in his respective matches.
Team leader Eric Walsh needed to go the full distance in each of his two outings that day while in contrast Kieran O’Brien had it easy, requiring only 25 holes to provide two crucial points to the cause.
Supporters of East Cork are confident the depth of strength in the squad will prove crucial.
Captain Maher was in the happy position of being in the position to make two changes between semi-final and final while fully realising that any team coming out of Leinster must carry a lot of potential, with Naas unlikely to prove any exception. The other semi-final involves Portumna and Banbridge and another close contest seems likely. The Junior Cup decider is also listed for tomorrow.
This is the first time that centenary celebrating Castlebar has hosted a major national event and they are confident that their 6,420-yard, par-71 layout will provide a worthy and attractive test. It was showery and blustery there yesterday and after rain over the past few weeks, a decision will be made this morning as to whether preferred lies will be in operation.
The course was extended from 9 to 18 holes in 1982 and in 1999 former English amateur star Peter McEvoy performed a major upgrading role including the creation of three new water hazards, the addition of more than 40 bunkers while all 18 greens were rebuilt to USGA specifications. McEvoy is especially proud of Castlebar’s five par-threes and especially the 188-yard 8th where ponds, streams and marshes come into the equation.
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