Irish bid for title hat-trick

IRELAND begin their bid this morning to become the first country for almost four decades to win three European Amateur Team titles on the bounce.

Not since England completed a hat-trick of triumphs in 1973 at Penina, Portugal has it been achieved – and Ireland know a stern challenge awaits them this week at Conwy on the North Wales coast.

Kevin Flanagan succeeds Michael Burns as captain. Burns was in charge when the Irish won at Western Gailes in Scotland in 2007 with victory over France and at Turin last summer when they beat England in the final.

This year’s side is somewhat different. Royal Dublin’s Niall Kearney and Paul Cutler both played in the winning team in Turin while Simon Ward from Co Louth featured at Western Gailes but missed out in Italy only to be recalled this time.

All three qualified for the knockout stages of the Amateur Championship recently but they were all found wanting when it came to head-to-head confrontations.

Shane Lowry would undoubtedly have been in the team at Conwy if he had not sensationally won the Irish Open and then taken the plunge into the paid ranks. But nevertheless it is a strong side defending the crown.

Last year Cutler was in tremendous form being unbeaten in the European Championships and the Home Internationals in which Ireland clinched the title and completed the Grand Slam.

Alan Dunbar, winner recently of the St Andrews Links Trophy, Dara Lernihan and Cian Curley will make their European Championship debuts.

Walker Cup selectors will be out in force at Conwy with a bare month to go before they announce their team to tackle the Americans in Pennsylvania.

This is only the second time that Wales will have hosted the championship, the other being 20 years ago at Porthcawl when England won.

Some 20 nations in all are competing with both the winner and runner-up in the Amateur Championship – Matteo Manassero and Sam Hutsby respectively in action.

Of the continental countries Spain and Sweden are usually the most dangerous and all the home nations have strong-looking outfits.

Today and tomorrow are devoted to stroke-play with five out of six scores in each team counting. After that the countries split into flights – only the top eight can win the crown. The final is on Saturday.

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