The annual festival has come to a new venue and there is palpable excitement in the air at Lisburn, a club dating back to 1905, but which has only been at its present home at Blaris Lodge since 1973. The layout was designed by Fred Hawtree, the father of Martin Hawtree who has been responsible for a considerable amount of remodelling of Irish courses in recent years and most notably the famous old links at Lahinch.
David Feherty shot a record shattering 64 here on the way to winning the 1989 Ulster Championship by 18 shots with an aggregate of 262 (65, 64, 68 and 65), although the planting of something like 10,000 trees and the addition of several bunkers and other hazards over the years has turned the 6,647 yards, par 72 course into a very formidable proposition.
The festival kicks off with the Barton Shield semi-finals this morning with Connemara taking on Banbridge and Cork up against Stackstown. The Banbridge team, which includes the promising Conor Doran and experienced Rory Leonard, will benefit from local knowledge as they are located just down the A1 from Lisburn. But foursomes is a strange game and Lyons and Cleary, having joined Denis O'Sullivan and Peter Cowley in their victorious campaign at Westport in 1990, know exactly what is required as they take on Stackstown in the second semi-final.
Furthermore, Gary O'Flaherty is well accustomed to the pressures associated with this week and helped Cork to Senior Cup glory at Athlone in 1998 while team captain Sean Clohessy is an All-Ireland senior hurling medal winner with Kilkenny. The Cork team and officials flew to Belfast by Jetmagic from Cork Airport on Tuesday and have acquainted themselves well with the Lisburn layout over the past few days.
The likelihood is that Stackstown, who include a couple of internationals in Mark Campbell (winner of a Barton Shield with UCD two years ago) and Michael McDermott, will prove dangerous opponents for Cork. The final is scheduled for 2.30pm
Clonmel are hoping to capture the Irish Junior Cup for the second time having previously done so at Galway in 1978 when their team consisted of Maurice Slater, S Moylan, P Wall, M Patterson and B McMahon. They are the only one of the semi-finalists to have previously won the trophy and take on Castlerock of Ulster in the second match. They will be preceded by Skerries and Loughrea.
Thurles are usually there or thereabouts in the Pierce Purcell Shield and having come through a particularly testing time in Munster, will be confident of adding to their success at Dundalk in 1997. They meet Royal Tara in the first semi-final while Warrenpoint, three times champions between 1981 and '87, will fancy their chances of a return to the winners rostrum. They take on Gort, who should be all the better for reaching the final at Newlands in 2001 when they lost to Kanturk, in the second semi-final.
The finals of the Junior Cup and Purcell Shield are scheduled for tomorrow when the semi-finals of Jimmy Bruen Shield and Senior Cup are also on the programme.