Teenagers display terrific maturity

IT’S only when you see the fun and the action at close range that the success of the Bulmers cups and shields really strikes home.

We are the envy of England, Scotland and Wales, all of whom would love to stage a similar festival at the end of the season, but just can't put a structure in place. In Ireland, however, it has been going for many years with the co-operation of outstanding sponsors like

Bulmers, the host clubs and the organisational skills of the Golfing Union of Ireland.

Galway Golf Club excelled themselves last week with the presentation of their course and the manner in which everything went like clockwork. Seamus Smith, general secretary of the GUI, mastermined the behind-the-scenes activities with customary zeal and efficiency and it only remained for the participating clubs to play their part.

This they most certainly did, from the aristocrats of the senior scene like Limerick and Clandeboye to the so-called lesser lights of the Pierce Purcell and Jimmy Bruen Shields.

Just about every age bracket has something to play for at the finals from the teenagers who surpassed themselves in the Irish senior and junior cups, to the 50 and 60-somethings who sweated blood to bring honour and glory to their clubs in the Purcell and Bruen shields. And when the dust finally settled on three marvellous days, it was unanimously agreed that it was the 17-year-old Killarney lad Jason Arthur and Limerick's Cian McNamara, 12 months his junior, who stole the show.

Young Arthur's father James (the Wedge), showed considerable courage in picking his seven handicap son in preference to older and lower handicapped players, but he was rewarded in quite amazing fashion.

The Junior Cup final between Killarney and Co Louth was tied at two matches each when Arthur and his opponent Michael Kierans reached the final tee all square. The nines, having been reversed for the occasion, the 18th at Galway was the 203 yards par three ninth, and it was playing into what was at least a two club wind.

Kierans found the green with a smashing metal wood only to see the precociousness of youth rewarded as Arthur drilled a three iron to within eight feet of the cup. Kierans missed and the youngster sank his birdie putt, an achievement that forever entitles him to a special place in the hearts and minds of everybody at Killarney.

And if that wasn't enough for one championship, along came Cian McNamara 24 hours later to lead Limerick to victory in the Irish Senior Cup. In spite of his many outstanding performances in junior golf throughout the past couple of years, I still believed a 16-year-old had no place in such a tension-packed arena, and tackling much older and infinitely more experienced campaigners.

Young McNamara didn't see it like that at all. As his team captain Billy Rice pointed out: "All he wanted was to play Noel Fox and Andrew McCormick."

Well, he got his way, but Cian might have wished otherwise when he found himself five down with five to play against Fox (the current East of Ireland champion) in the Limerick-Portmarnock semi-final.

Undaunted, he showed typical courage in bring his man to the 17th green. He was in trouble again early in the following morning against the long established Irish international Andrew McCormick but once more refused to be fazed and it was his splendidly played par three at the last that clinched Limerick's first Blue Ribband in 20 years.

Golf is a fickle game and who knows what the future holds for Jason Arthur and Cian McNamara. Hopefully they will have many more great days in the sun for they are fine golfers and, equally, fine young men.

Such matters won't unduly bother the players, young and old, who fought their way to glory. Few, if any, are likely to find themselves the centre of golfing attention, but it will always be a source of satisfaction that they have savoured the joys and sorrows of competing in the closing stages of two great tournaments.

Woodstock from Ennis and The Island from north Dublin were crowned champions and deservedly so.

Others have their eyes on those titles already. Next year the festival returns to Ulster and the Lisburn club south of Belfast. They proved their intent by sending a team of officers to Galway to see just themselves to perform an equally good job in 12 months time.

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