It was the Kerrymen’s first Junior Cup success, coming in a 4-1 victory over Connacht champions Westport in the five-man singles event for players with a five handicap or higher, and a first national title since Ballybunion won the Jimmy Bruen Shield in 1979, 16 years before the oldest member of the yesterday’s team was born.
There had been some near misses, a lost Senior Cup final in 2000 and a Bruen final defeat in 2005, but the Junior Cup produced the winning formula for captain John Maher’s talented young side.
The Munster champions had beaten Leinster’s Laytown & Bettystown 3½-1½ in Wednesday’s semi-final to set up a final with Westport and Ballybunion went unbeaten against the Mayomen to run out 4-1 victors.
Youngest team member John Molyneaux Jr, 16, got the ball rolling with a 2 up win over Westport’s Ronan Hehir before first-year college student Frank Geary Jr, 18, defeated 17-year-old Jack Healy 3&1.
That left Ballybunion’s Leaving Cert trio of Senan Carroll, 17, Richard Hanley, 18, and Jason Lynch, 17, to wrap up the victory. Carroll and Lynch each finished all square with Ronan Mahon and Shane Larkin respectively before Hanley sealed a point outright with a 3&2 win over Tony Bree.
It was a reward, Maher said, for a long-term path to success for the youngsters and some dedicated preparation since winning the Munster title six weeks ago.
“The starting point for all this was that they got to the semi-finals of the All-Ireland Junior Foursomes in 2010 with more or less the same team. And the club have put a lot into the junior set-up and it’s worked out very well.
“We came up (to Royal Tara) and played about six times here in the last six weeks so we put a lot of time into that. We camped up here for an overnighter as well and we got to know the place. The guys liked it because they’re good strikers and even though Ballybunion is links they do play a lot of parkland in junior golf and it suited us.”
If Ballybunion’s victory was clear-cut, the Barton Shield final between Co. Sligo and Clandeboye went down to the wire.
It was Ulster champions Clandeboye who prevailed over the two foursomes contests with an aggregate victory of two holes to deny the Rosses Point men the first leg of what they hoped would be a Barton Shield-Senior Cup double this week.
It was a close run thing, though, as only two holes separated the clubs heading to the last in both contests with Sligo’s Sean Flanagan and Declan Reidy 4-Up against Graeme Laird and Lee Crawford and Clandeboye’s Colm Murphy and William Russell 6-Up over Gary McDermott and Steffan O’Hara after 17 holes apiece.
Flanagan and Reidy ramped up the pressure by winning the final hole of their match to win by five holes, leaving team-mates McDermott and O’Hara needing to win the final hole of theirs to force extra holes.
Instead, it was Clandeboye’s Murphy and Russell who held their nerve and then some, winning the final hole to take a seven-hole victory and take the Barton Shield back to Co.Down by an aggregate of two holes over the Connacht champions.
The Pierce Purcell Shield semi-finals rounded off the day’s action, with Clare’s Munster champions Spanish Point defeating Ulster’s representatives from Monagahan, Rossmore, 4-1 in the competition decided by five foursomes of higher handicapped players with each pairing having a combined handicap of no more than 27.
Spanish Point will now face Connacht champions Claremorris in today’s final. The Mayomen came through a nail-biter of a semi-final to close out the day’s play, edging past Leinster top dogs Corrstown 3-2, the match going to the final hole of the last remaining pairing.
With the overall matched poised at 2-2, Corrstown’s Martin McIvor and Joe O’Dwyer reached the 18th all square with Malachy Monaghan and Pat Coyne with the semi-final in the balance, only for the Claremorris pair to win the final hole, seal a 1 up win and advance to their club to today’s final.